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Listening, a Crucial, Underrated Legal Skill

Who hasn’t heard that lawyers like to hear themselves talk? Lawyers like to talk. Lawyers like to think they give brilliant oratory. Lawyers are “wordsmiths” fashioning eloquent arguments for their clients to receptive juries that don’t even need to discuss the facts or the law in deciding the fate of the defendant after listening to the brilliant words of the lawyer. Well that part is just on television. The fact is, lawyers do like to talk and do like to listen to themselves talk. Many lawyers are their own best fans. But, many lawyers fail in the listening to others department.

Listening to our clients is a skill that is under-appreciated and underutilized by most lawyers. Our clients tell us what happened in their own words. They were there. They know. The client may have expertise in an area that the lawyer doesn’t. A great lawyer knows when to be quiet and just listen.

Recently, two separate instances proved the value of listening. First, the client kept saying that he didn’t confess like the police report says he did. The client’s previous lawyer had obtained but not listened to the client’s recorded statement to the police. The lawyer suggested he take a plea deal for six years in prison because of the confession. When the lawyer wouldn’t listen, the client changed lawyers. The first thing I did was to listen to the client and the second was to listen to the recorded statement. The police reports were just simply not true. The client hadn’t confessed at all. In fact, the client had adamantly denied any involvement in the crime. Once this was brought to the attention of the prosecutor the case fell apart and it was dismissed. The second case involved the client with the “spotty” record. He said he wasn’t at the crime scene when it happened. He told this to the police but was confused about the date since it occurred sometime prior to his interrogation. Careful listening on my part led to even more careful investigation. Interviewing independent witnesses, finding time sheets that confirmed the client’s alibi, and bringing these items to the attention of the prosecutor also led to a dismissal of the “strike” charge against the client.

It not only “helps to listen”, for a lawyer it’s essential.