5 Presentation Skills Every Lawyer Needs

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Speaking in front of an audience can be daunting, even for the most eloquent among us. However, for lawyers, the ability to speak confidently and persuasively is not just a nice to have. Whether you’re an experienced barrister, a solicitor presenting a complex case to a client, or a junior legal professional in an internal team meeting, effective presentation skills are the cornerstone of success.

Lawyers who are strong communicators and are great at public speaking not only win cases, they can save time and money, while also continually building trust and understanding with clients and their teams. Our recent SME Law Firm research report highlights just how important these core communication skills are, with 60% of firms citing client relationship management and 58% good communication skills as two of the biggest factors adding value to their firms’ client service, quality and reputation.

As a lawyer you spend most of your day communicating, and presenting and speaking publicly form a large part of that communication, whether it’s day-to-day meetings and team presentations, explaining a client’s options available to them or representing them in court, or networking for business development.

This blog delves into the key presentation skills every lawyer needs, how they can play a key part in helping you become a more influential and impactful lawyer at every stage of your career, and how you can practise these skills.

1. The power of storytelling in law

Storytelling is at the heart of practising law. James Boyd White, an American law professor, literary critic, scholar, author and philosopher, was cited in Chris Rideout’s article Storytelling, Narrative Rationality, and Legal Persuasion, as saying: “The law always begins in story: usually in the story the client tells, whether he or she comes in off the street for the first time or adds in a phone call another piece of information to a narrative with which the lawyer has been long, perhaps too long, familiar. It ends in story, too, with a decision by a court or jury, or an agreement between the parties, about what happened and what it means.”

It’s clear that facts alone can’t win cases – developing a compelling narrative can make all the difference to whether you win or lose a case or a client. Litigators use storytelling as a key part of their cases and great lawyers use storytelling to build descriptive and analytical depictions of events in their client’s favour, which can impact and influence decisions.

Here’s how to practise your legal storytelling skills

Start strong:

Begin your presentation with something that will grab your listeners’ attention. Whether it’s a hard-hitting statistic, a thought-provoking question or a relevant anecdote, make sure you spend some time thinking about how you open your presentation. Close equally strong too!

Be human:

People connect with others and their stories on a human level, so tapping into the human/emotional side of the narrative can be incredibly powerful in strengthening your narrative and influencing your audience.

Go beyond facts:

Don’t just present the facts, help your audience understand the ‘why’ behind them. What are the stakes involved? Why should they care about the outcome? Why should they pick you?

2. Structuring Your Arguments for Impact

You may build storytelling into your presentations, but even the most captivating narratives can fall flat without a strong foundation. Organisation is key to a powerful presentation that guides your audience through your reasoning clearly and concisely.

David Emanuel KC, a renowned criminal defence lawyer, shared valuable insight on winning arguments with the Guardian, stating: “You have to know the facts and the law back to front, but also you have to be trustworthy and part of that is making concessions. If you have weaker points or arguments, conceding they are weaker without throwing them away can make your stronger points more credible. It can also be disarming, and throw people off guard.” He adds: “Stubbornly seeming not to concede any ground at all can damage your overall position.”

Just as acknowledging weaker points builds trust and strengthens your overall position in court, a well-structured presentation acknowledges the complexity of legal issues while guiding your audience clearly and concisely.

Here’s how to ensure your presentation is as impactful as it is informative:

Map it out:

Map out your presentation beforehand to provide a roadmap for your audience – let them know where you’re taking them and why.

The power of three:

Structure your presentation with a clear introduction, body and conclusion. The “power of three” is a useful tool for structuring your arguments or key points and making them easier to remember, and you can always adopt Aristotle’s approach for impact: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.”

Smooth transitions:

Using clear transitions to signal shifts in your arguments/points can help your audience follow your train of thought and retain key points. Phrases like ‘furthermore’, ‘building on this point’, or ‘in conclusion’, can effectively guide your audience through your presentation.

3. Using Visual Aids Strategically

It’s no secret that attention spans are shrinking and the ability to capture and retain your audience’s attention is getting harder and harder. Bearing this in mind when developing legal presentations is crucial. While facts and figures are important, there can be a tendency to want to include everything in a visual aid. It’s worth remembering that the human brain is wired to process visuals faster and more effectively than text – this is known as the ‘picture superiority effect‘. However, clarity remains paramount – avoid cluttering your slides with excessive visuals that become overwhelming.

Here’s how to leverage visuals effectively:

Simplify the complex:

Use visuals like charts, graphs, infographics and images that strategically simplify complex legal concepts or key points.  Think of them as visual aids, not a replacement for clear communication.

Focus on impact:

Make sure visuals are used to complement and directly support your arguments/points and focus on graphics that bring visual impact and clarity.

Practice makes perfect:

Practise using your visual aids seamlessly to avoid technical glitches that can disrupt your presentation flow. Additionally, set up your laptop and screen well in advance to eliminate last-minute technical hiccups and pre-presentation jitters.

4. Mastering Nonverbal Communication

They say it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. In the legal sector, where persuasion reigns supreme, this statement especially rings true. The ability to project confidence through nonverbal communication can be the tipping point in a presentation or courtroom argument.

Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model states that 7% of the meaning of feelings and attitudes is conveyed through the words we use in spoken communications, while 38% is communicated through tone and voice, and the remaining 55% through our body language (specifically our facial expressions). This highlights why we can’t ignore nonverbal communication as lawyers, but also in our everyday lives.

Here’s how to harness the power of body language and vocal delivery:

Maintain strong posture:

Stand tall with balanced weight distribution and project confidence through your body language. This will also open up your chest so you can take deeper breaths and project your voice better.

Make eye contact:

Connect with your audience by making eye contact with different individuals throughout your presentation. This fosters a sense of connection and trust.

Modulate your voice:

Vary the pace and volume of your speech to keep the audience engaged. Avoid a monotone delivery, as it can make people switch off to what you are saying.

5. Practice makes perfect

We cannot overstate the importance of rehearsing presentations out loud. Bill Gates called Steve Jobs a “wizard” who casts spells on his audience with his presentation skills. Fortune magazine said his keynotes could set hearts aflutter and his presentations alone could spark surges in Apple’s stock. As a lawyer, you’re looking to make a different impact, but Jobs’s secret wasn’t natural talent or status, it was relentless practice.

“Most people don’t realise what looked spontaneous was rehearsed over and over,” revealed John Sculley, former Apple CEO. “Every word, step, and demo was meticulously planned.”

The same dedication to meticulous preparation applies to lawyers. While legal expertise is key, the ability to deliver your arguments or pitches with clarity and confidence is just as important.

Here’s how to refine your presentation and become a more impactful legal communicator:

Rehearse out loud:

Rehearse your presentations out loud, ideally in front of a trusted colleague or even group, if you can. This allows you to get live feedback, refine your delivery, identify areas for improvement, and build confidence. Going over your presentation in your mind isn’t the same as delivering it to an audience!

Use recording tools:

Record yourself practising and watch it back to identify areas for improvement in delivery and body language.

Practice within timeframes:

Ensure your presentation stays within the allotted time frame if you have one. Rehearse to gauge your delivery speed and adjust as needed. The more you can rehearse, the less chance you have of cracking under pressure.

Mastering presentation skills is indispensable for lawyers who wish to excel in their careers. The ability to develop compelling narratives, structure arguments effectively, use visual aids strategically, project confidence through nonverbal communication, and refine delivery through practice are crucial elements that elevate a lawyer’s effectiveness. Ultimately, these skills are not just about winning cases – they are about building trust and lasting relationships with clients, gaining the respect of peers, and enhancing the overall quality and reputation of legal services.

Investing in Your Future with BARBRI’s Online Courses

Building a successful legal career requires a strong foundation and equipping yourself with strong presentation skills doesn’t have to be overwhelming. BARBRI offers a range of affordable, on-demand online courses including our Presenting Masterclass as part of our #LegalLifeSkills programme.

  • Flexible learning: Our courses are designed for busy schedules. They’re short, on-demand, and packed with practical tips and real-world examples you can put into action immediately.
  • Expert-led instruction: Our courses are developed and delivered by legal professionals with extensive industry experience.
  • Cost-effective: Compared to traditional in-person training, our online courses offer a cost-effective way to advance your business development skills.
  • Convenient access: Learn from anywhere, anytime at your own pace. All you need is an internet connection.

To find out more, enrol today or request a call back visit Legal Life Skills.

Interested in our Communication Skills for Legal Professionals courses? View our upcoming courses here.

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