One of my absolute favorite movies of all time is Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy. A favorite line from that classic was spoken by the captain of the prison camp (played by Strother Martin) after Newman’s (Luke’s) umpteenth failed attempt at escape and subsequent punishment. His said “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

I thought of that movie after reading Ernie Svenson’s recent post “What we (usually) have is a failure to communicate” on his Ernie The Attorney blog. Ernie wasn’t referring to the movie, but rather to himself and others (including yours truly, I might add).

He points out that lawyers, by the very nature of the profession, have many opportunities to communicate well, and need to. However, many clients complain about the failure of their lawyer to do so. If much of lawyering depends on it, what should we do to improve?

Ernie’s shares with us what he tries to do to improve his communication skills. Basically, he uses two steps that may be helpful to the rest of us:

  • First, is to recognize when you “fail to communicate effectively.” He agrees that is the hard part, but a particular approach may not be right for a given situation; and the message will not be received or welcomed because of that. Each of us needs to recognize when that happens; and
  • Secondly, “you need to listen first.” Simply put, listen so you will know what people “want to hear, what they’re capable of understanding.”

So, it behooves all of us to work on our communications skill set, if we want to escape our clients’ punishment.