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Use your words!: Your Shortcut for Better Relationships | Season 2 Ep 37

Uncategorized Jan 31, 2022

Use your words!:  Your Shortcut for Better Relationships

As lawyers, we communicate a lot, all the time, in many different ways. We write letters, send emails, phone (yes pick up the phone sometimes!) with other lawyers, our clients, our team, and other professionals in our industry. Sometimes we even text about a file matter. I do.  

Words have meaning. Words have power.

Communications have come a long way since my first law job when we addressed every letter (no email yet at that time, it was that long ago haha) with “Dear Sirs/Mesdames” and signed the letters with “sincerely.” Not exactly warm and collaborative or inviting. 

The thing to remember is that even when sending a quick email, the proper salutation is not only important and appropriate, it is often your first opportunity to influence the narrative, particularly between you and your “opposing” counsel. Proper salutations are important even when texting. 

The same is true for the sign-off of your communications. 

You can use each and every one of your communications on a matter as an opportunity to drive the culture of your conversations, that culture being one of respect, and cooperation getting closer rather than farther away from resolving and finalizing your client's matter.

I sign a lot of my communications these days with 5 red hearts. Even some of my communications with other professionals, lawyers, and clients. 

Just like please and thank you, proper salutations and closings are small and simple investments. Those small and simple investments will help you and they will help your clients. It is your opportunity to frame the narrative in a way that can be useful and collaborative rather than unnecessarily combative. 

Such language is helpful in all of our communications, whether that be with our clients, other lawyers, court registry staff, our own team, other professionals on our team, and yes, even with our own families and ex-spouses. 

Sometimes I have clients ask me why I am not rude and awful in my correspondence like the other lawyer as is sometimes the case. I am transparent with my client about the fact that leaning into a cooperative way of speaking can save them time, money, and ongoing stress. Usually, that is enough to get their buy-in. 

Lawyers, no matter how busy we are, have no excuse to not use niceties.

Also, remember that it is likely that the recipient will likely not be the only person who reads your email. Emails are shared, cc’d, and often end up attached to an affidavit. 

I often start my emails with a “Hello and then their first name.” Unless the lawyer has been in practice for 30 plus years, and if they are, I then tend to address them by their Mr. or Mrs. pronouns as in their correspondence. I use their correspondence as my guide. If Harold Turnham signs off as “Harold” I will call him “Harold.” If he signs off as Mr. Turnham, I will address him as Mr. Turnham. I am going with their lead.

Now, back to my salutations. 

I then take a moment to say “I hope this email finds you well.” or “Happy New Year” or “I hope you had a restful weekend” or “I hope you are enjoying this beautiful weather we are having.” The whole point is that it is a nicety, albeit an authentic one. 

If I can’t stand the other lawyer, I find it a bit more difficult to be authentic in my nicety, but I get there. 

Yet, you can go a lot deeper than a proper salutation or greeting. 

You can utilize your email and other communications as your opportunity to connect with other counsel, your clients, and other professionals that you deal with on a day to day basis. These touchpoints can help guide you towards the desired outcome not only for your client but will be less stressful for you. 
I first noticed this strategy when reviewing medical records between doctors. They would always (seem to very sincerely thank) the other doctor they were communicating with for the referral. I have always noted doctors to be very busy, and yet, they do appear to take the time for the niceties. 

Even in legal correspondence, the line between professional and personal, or formal and informal is most often blurred particularly if we practice law in a small city where all the lawyers know each other, or we deal with counsel on a repeated basis. Remember that your opposing counsel is human, even if they irritate you to death, being respectful in your communications with them has great power. 
This past week, I have been dealing with a lawyer I have never met.

I have invited him to communicate with me by way of telephone on numerous occasions. I have suggested appointment times we can talk and he will not get on the phone. He says he prefers to communicate by way of an email. It is not useful or efficient at all. He also does not bother to greet me in any way in his communications and his sign-off is a standard “regards, NAME.” He is not signing off at all. He keeps writing these short, little emails, that do little to increase the sharing of information between us. His communications are bringing us farther apart in terms of our communication and farther apart in terms of a potential settlement. 

Our communications will certainly result in us being in court rather than having even the slightest opportunity to discuss the matter and resolve it.

I compare this to a different situation I had this past week. 

This past week I have been dealing with another lawyer in my City, who I have never had a file (very unusual because the family law lawyers in my city all tend to know each other and have many dealings with each other). Of course, I asked another colleague about what they were like to deal with because I have seen them in court on numerous occasions with high-conflict files and I wondered if the files were high-conflict because of the lawyer or because of the parties. 
Again,  I have been careful in my communication to ensure we have transformed the narrative to cooperative and collaborative communication. We then got on a call with one another, had a very enjoyable conversation and have created a plan that will guide us to resolution with this family. This was a very good use of my client’s time and their resources. It was a very good use of .an hour of time. 

Signing off on communications also every bit as important. 

Here are some great ways to sign off on your letter:

  • Respectfully yours
  • Kind (or Best) regards
  • Sincerely yours
  • With regards
  • With many thanks
  • To your continued success
  • All the best
  • Sincerely
  • Best wishes
  • Cordially

Again, it is another opportunity to guide the narrative in a non-combative and productive way. It is your opportunity to save your client money and stress. 

Here are some examples of my sign-offs: 
I am looking forward to working with you on this matter to see this matter resolved for the benefit of this family.
Talk soon and have a great weekend. 
Kindest regards,
Enjoy your holiday and I look forward to hearing from you upon your return.
All the best,
I am looking forward to the scheduled mediation and seeing this matter resolved for the benefit of both of our clients. 
Wishing you all the best,
One associate lawyer I work with within my law firm signs her emails always with “in kindness.” I love it. And I love it that she means it when she says it.
You get the idea. 
So, my invitation to you is to take that extra beat to bother with the nicety. This reduces the stress for you and models excellent behavior for your clients. It gets them to what they want, that is their matter being resolved, more efficiently. 

In this Episode:

  • As lawyers, we communicate a lot, all the time, in many different ways [00:01:00]
  • Words have meaning. Words have power. [00:01:42]
  • Proper salutations are even important when texting in my view. [00:04:00]
  • Such language is helpful in all of our communications [00:05:50]
  • Lawyers, no matter how busy we are, have no excuse to not use niceties. [00:09:24]
  • You can go a lot deeper than a proper salutation or greeting [00:12:16]
  • This past week, I have been dealing with a lawyer I have never met. [00:16:19]
  • Signing off on communications also every bit as important. [00:22:14]
  • Take that extra beat to bother with the nicety. [00:24:13]



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