Steve Milller from Cleveland joined the Board of Litigation Magazine about the same time I did three decades ago. For the thirty years, he has brought passion to the Magazine and the law and I have benefited greatly from his friendship. He offers some insights into how great lawyers communicate.
THE ESSENCE REMAINS
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Born in the mid-1950s and educated through the 1970s, I’m now well into my fourth decade in the practice of law.
At the age of ten, I transitioned from childhood aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player, an astronaut, or a policeman, to the seemingly more mature ambition to be a lawyer.
It was more practicality than maturity. I couldn’t hit or field well enough to warrant early selection in schoolyard pick-up games, and I lacked the physical fitness for a career in rocket ships or law enforcement. But, I was a good conversationalist.
Anyone could see it. My first career dreams were just youthful fantasies. The legal profession was a more realistic goal.
In law school, the indoctrination began. “We’ll teach you to think and talk like a lawyer,” they said, over and over again. It was the mantra of legal education then and it remains so today.
There was special terminology, including much in Latin. To excel, they taught us, we needed fluency in legalese, in lawyer-talk.
I imagined it was so we could speak in code to one another and to judges. How impressive, I thought.
That was incorrect.
Most impressive, instead, have been those lawyers whose special knowledge and gifted analysis distinguish them but don’t define them, because consistently in their interactions with others they relate and communicate as people.
Any real shot at communication, comprehension, and potential persuasion comes, not from talking like a lawyer, but from talking like a person. The simpler the presentation, the more likely the message is received and understood, even when the audience is other lawyers or lawyers-turned-judges, and especially when the audience is not.
Communication technology has changed dramatically over the last half century. It continues ever-changing, and the pace of that change itself constantly quickens.
But, this essential truth remains: Analyze it as a lawyer; but say it as a human being. The simpler, the better.
Steven J. Miller, Managing Partner
MILLER GOLER FAEGES LAPINE LLP