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For many new associates, the sum of their public speaking experience may consist of one moot court round in law school. There is a sense, moreover, that success in a law firm (at least for those who do not intend to become litigators) has nothing to do with public speaking ability. Even future litigators may assume that, because their chances of seeing the inside of a courtroom anytime soon seem so slim, they can defer developing public speaking skills and experience to a later point in their career. Those views are short-sighted. The ability to compose and deliver clear, effective oral communication will have a significant effect on a junior lawyer’s success, in any practice area, starting from the very outset of a professional career. Here are the ways in which public speaking can be important, and how speaking ability and experience can be developed. STAND AND DELIVER Begin with the recognition that most senior lawyers (and most clients) can at times be extremely busy. By contrast to law school (and even the summer associate experience), where most projects have a long lead time, soon after a junior lawyer begins working at a law firm, a senior lawyer or client will ask for “quickie” advice on some subject. In this situation, there will be no time for contemplative research and writing. If you are lucky, you might get a very brief period to collect your thoughts and prepare to answer questions. But your advice must be oral, and it must be immediate. The keys to communicating effectively in this situation are really the keys to effective oral communication in general: • Answer the question. Although the explanation and background for an answer may be very important, senior lawyers and clients generally start with a fairly specific question (or set of questions) to which they would like an answer. Just as you would compose a question for purposes of an office memorandum, oral advice should generally begin with a statement of the question and the short answer. The answer, in some instances, may not be definitive (“I have not been able to find dispositive law on this point” or “I need to do additional research to answer this question”). But the listener should at least know what you thought the question was, and what conclusion you have reached in the time allotted. • Outline your reasoning. Be prepared for the possibility that your listener will not give you a lot of time to explain yourself. Thus, even if you have much more to say, outline just the two or three major points in support of your conclusion, which you should be able to deliver in a minute or less. You may also want to develop a more detailed version of the outline, which you would be prepared to use to provide a more complete explanation, if given the chance. This more-detailed outline may also be helpful when your listener asks questions. • Speak with confidence about what you know. In asking for quick advice on a subject, senior lawyers and clients are generally looking to make a judgment about whether a decision can be taken on limited information or whether more full-scale research and analysis must be done. If you are certain you have the essential answer to a question, but express the conclusion so tentatively that it appears you are unsure, the listener may conclude that your research and analysis is incomplete. • Do not think that this situation is unique. Again and again, throughout your career, you will be called by senior lawyers and clients who want to “check out an issue.” These situations are the essence of the attorney-client advice paradigm. That’s why mastering the ability to give oral advice in this situation is critical to becoming a fully functioning lawyer. A host of other situations will soon arise that will test your oral communication abilities. Junior corporate lawyers, for example, may participate in negotiating sessions with other counsel and parties. Junior litigators too may get involved in settlement negotiations and eventually participate in court conferences and other proceedings. And many junior lawyers take part in the firm’s recruiting and client development activities, all of which depend, at least to some degree, on good oral communication skills. ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? How, then, to gain the experience necessary to become comfortable in the many public speaking situations you may encounter? The following are a few possibilities: • Some firms have internal public- speaking training programs. These programs are often geared to the special needs and interests of lawyers and may focus on the problems encountered by novice public speakers. • Many firms have outlets for internal opportunities to speak publicly, such as monthly group luncheons, where subjects of general interest are addressed. Your firm may also have formal training programs in which you may be able to participate as an instructor. • Bar associations and continuing legal education groups often look for speakers, especially in “hot” or developing areas. Your firm’s business development coordinator may be able to assist in getting assignments to speak to such groups. More generally, schools at every level (secondary, college, law school) may accept speakers and teachers, especially on a volunteer basis. • Civic, political, and religious groups (especially those with which you already have an affiliation) may be interested in discussion of legal topics and other subjects that affect business people and community leaders. Even a brief, limited speaking experience can be valuable. The process of developing a topic, outlining it, and practicing and presenting a speech in a conversational manner will enhance your self-confidence and ease your preparation for the public speaking opportunities you will encounter in your professional capacity. Ultimately, the self-assurance that comes from being able to speak effectively will serve you well in all aspects of your career, from private client counseling sessions to the largest public gatherings. This article was distributed by the American Lawyer Media News Service. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York office of Jones Day and a co-coordinator of the new associates group in that office. The views expressed are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to his firm or its clients.

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