To succeed in speeches or presentations, lawyers must not only know who they are, but also who an audience expects them to be.
Lawyers are a mix of their "non-lawyer" character, background, and personality combined with the influence that their legal training and professional experience has had on their thinking, perspective, behavior, values, and communicative skills. When a lawyer speaks in public, or even in private, that communicative act is influenced substantively, stylistically and symbolically by the training and daily experiences of being a lawyer.
Of course, there is no one lawyer "type." Lawyers have different practices, diverse personal backgrounds and varied communicative styles. But there are some prevailing professional characteristics that may influence how they speak and interact with their audiences. A caution is offered here. Generalizations such as these are always risky. A grain of salt is urged when reading them and assessing their implications. But, lawyers need no such warning. They are masters in the art of saline caution.
The occupational influences that may influence how lawyers speak to and interact with audiences include the following.
- Lawyers often use, if not rely on, technical language and professional jargon.
- Lawyers tend to present information and arguments with conditions and qualifications.
- Lawyers are seldom accused of being brief in their presentations.
- Lawyers tend to use repetition as a tool of persuasion.
- Lawyers often use words and express ideas with precise literal meaning; they do not tend toward the imaginative.
- Lawyers think more in terms of incremental change, with strong ties to established principles and patterns.
- Lawyers rely much more on verbal discourse than on visual or kinesthetic messaging.
- Lawyers are more likely to try to cover all potentially relevant issues, rather than tend to selectivity.
- Lawyers are trained to think about cases and not stories.
- Lawyers are almost always acting as an agent or a partisan.
- Lawyers are accustomed to speaking as authorities. They rarely speak to audiences as peers.
You may disagree with some of these generalities or may simply conclude that they don’t describe you. But, we can all agree that how we think and act professionally are important influences on how we communicate and are perceived.