Young Lawyers Connect E-Newsletter

October 2008

Don’t Miss the Next First Thursdays Event…

On Thursday, October 2 nd, join us for the next event in the Young Lawyers Connect First Thursdays Series- a Dinner Cruise on the Spirit of New York. Meet other young attorneys along with young CPA’s and Financial Advisors while enjoying a night of dinner, drinks, networking, and unparalleled views of New York City and Olafur Eliasson’s New York Waterfalls. Space is limited. Register Today

First Thursdays Series

Spirit of New York Dinner Cruise
Oct 2, 7-10:30 pm

City Bar Exclusive Shopping Event at Brooks Brothers
Nov 6, 6-8 pm

Pass the Bar
Dec 4, 6-8 pm

Thank you to our First Thursdays Sponsors: ClearChannel, New York Law Journal, Vault

View Pictures of the September 4 th Kickoff Cocktail Reception

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The Art of Communication

Persuasion Through Story Telling
By Jay Sullivan

Reprinted with the permission of the New York Law Journal

As lawyers, we routinely need to persuade others. We need them to hire us, to find in favor of our clients, to work for us, to promote us to partner. In order to persuade others we must tell engaging stories about how we can help them.

We don’t sell widgets. We don’t have something we can hold up and say, “This is what I’m talking about.” We sell concepts, and most people cannot learn a concept in the abstract. We can only process an idea by its impact on reality.

Law school is all about concepts, and law students are generally a fairly bright bunch. Yet for generations, law school has been driven by the case method of instruction. The cases are the stories that make the concepts easy for us to understand. Lawyers must tell stories about the concepts we are trying to “sell” in order for our audience to understand what we want them to do. We need to be good story tellers to be persuasive.

Many attorneys rely too heavily on the prestige of their firms or their own good names to help them win business. Our firm may get us a meeting with a prospective client, but rarely does it win business. Most prospective clients are not impressed when an attorney says, “Hire us. We’re the biggest and the best.” That type of pitch is not successful because every firm says, “We’re the biggest and the best.” They just qualify their statement differently. “We’re the biggest and the best at M&A for telecom companies in the northeast,” for example.

You are more likely to win business if you can tell a story that relates your ability to the needs the client has expressed. “It’s really interesting that you are facing that challenge. About six months ago, Acme, down the street, was facing a similar challenge. Because we have lawyers who could handle the tax, real estate and the regulatory issues involved, we were able to help them address their challenges and close their deal on time.” Now the potential client is thinking, “Well you could do this for me because you just did it for someone else.” The story carries the message better. “Hire us because of who we are,” isn’t as strong as “Hire us because of what we’ve done.”

To tell a good story, begin by defining your purpose. Is your story to convey a specific point or to establish rapport? If you are trying to convey a specific point, your story must have a clear message. State the message clearly at the end of the story, the way Aesop’s fables end with “and the morale of the story is….” Just don’t use that phrase; it sounds contrived.

If your story is to build rapport, consider your audience. To connect with a group, make sure the members have a common knowledge base to appreciate the story. (Don’t tell a story about a complex legal issue to an audience of non-lawyers.) If your audience is just one person, make sure she can identify with the nature of your story. (Don’t tell stories about your kids to someone who doesn’t have kids, or stories about your litigation successes to someone interested in hiring your firm for its transaction experience.)

Then consider your use of humor. Humor is a delicate issue. I was once teaching a presentation skills class to a group of partners at a large law firm. During a break, one partner approached me and, chuckling to himself, said, “I was thinking of being a little jocular in my next presentation. What are your thoughts on that?” The only thought in my head was, “Please don’t!”

Using humor when giving a presentation is like the price of diamonds. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. If you have to “think” about being funny, it doesn’t come natural, so don’t go near it. Audiences don’t “take points off” your presentation for having a straightforward delivery. They do deduct points if you try to be funny and fail.

Following are a few quick tips to persuade your listener:

Be upbeat. Your story should address how your audience can address their problems. Make yourself the hero in a subtle, non-bragging way. Then tie the story directly to the needs your audience has expressed.

Keep it clean. If any part of your brain is questioning whether the story is too risqué, off color or of questionable taste, skip it. You don’t want to risk offending your audience.

Be brief. Your stories should focus on the specific point you want to make. Eliminate extraneous parts of the story line since they only get in the way of someone understanding your content.

Don’t go negative. Whether you are trying to win over a new client or convince the promotion committee to make you a partner, talk about what you offer. Don’t knock the competition. Whenever you are communicating, you are positioning yourself as a leader. Leaders focus on the positive.

Memorize your first line. This will help get you off to a smooth start, as memorizing your last line will help you wrap up. All good stories start the same way, “Once upon a time.” The time reference gives the story context: Two weeks ago….; When I started at the firm….; The last time

I argued before the appellate division…. If you know your opening line, your story will have more structure.

And all good stories end the same, “They all lived happily ever after.” The last line reinforces your message: That’s why we know we can help you with this problem;

That’s how I see myself adding value to the partnership; That’s why I recommend we take this approach with the litigation. The last line drives home your point.

Avoid metaphors. Your story is itself a metaphor for how you can help your audience. Tell your story clearly, without literary flourishes. In working with different groups over the years, I have heard many metaphors that worked well, and many that didn’t. One pharmaceutical company piloted the tag line for their new flu medicine with the lines: “If you have a cold, we’ll help you kick it. If you have a runny nose, we’ll help you lick it.” It created the wrong image for people. Another client mixed her metaphors: “I know if we develop the right roots in the community we can soar like eagles.” It created the impression she had her feet on the ground, head in the clouds. My personal favorite however, was the young idealist who built a presentation around the line, “Let’s take a stab at peace.”

Metaphors are powerful tools and have their place when you are writing a closing argument or trying to convey your message. If your message is, “We can help you avoid the potholes in developing your new business,” that’s great. Now your story can reinforce how you will accomplish that goal. If you then develop other metaphors within your story, you will confuse the issue.

Honing your storytelling skills will help you persuade your listeners in a variety of contexts.

Our stories help establish our credibility as well as make our content more memorable. Remember the old adage: “Tell me a fact and I’ll listen. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. Tell me a story and it will be with me forever.”

Jay Sullivan, a former practicing attorney, is a partner at Exec|Comm, a communication skills firm, where he heads the law firm group. He can be reached at

 Career Corner

Career Reevaluation: Finding the Right Fit
Break from the Law: A City Bar Initiative for Practicing and Re-entering Lawyers

Tuesday, October 7, 9 – 10:30 am

The Art of Schmoozing: Networking Made Easy for Law Students and Recent Law School Graduates
Tuesday, October 14, 6:30 – 8 pm

Using Networking and Networking Support Groups to Manage Your Job Search and Career
Wednesday, October 15, 6 – 8 pm

Building Social Capital: An Interactive Program for Women Lawyers on How to Draw on Your Personal and Professional Relationships to Accomplish Your Goals
Monday, October 20, 8 am – 10 am

Is a contract, freelance, staff or discovery attorney position right for you?
Monday, October 20, 6:30 pm

Young Lawyers Committee Fall Reception
Tuesday, October 21, 6:30 – 9 pm

Small Law Firm Luncheon: Growing Your Practice
Thursday, October 23, 12:30 – 2 pm

Intelligent Interviewing: Telling Your Story, Selling Yourself
Tuesday, October 28, 6 pm

The Internet and Copyright: Public Policies Collide
Wednesday, October 29, 6 – 9 pm

Arbitration Ask & Answer
Wednesday, October 29, 8:30 am – 4 pm

Non-Fiction: True Crime Stories & the Truth about Being a Lawyer-Writer
Thursday, October 30, 2008 6:30 pm

Ask the Experts

Q: How do I make a comeback from a bad evaluation?

A: Receiving negative feedback in the workplace can be very difficult, but when negative feedback comes in the collective form of an overall “bad” evaluation it can be devastating to one’s professional ego and sense of mastery. That being said—there is life and career after what you call a “bad” evaluation if you can identify and find some constructive lessons that you can use in the future.

First, it is helpful to reframe the term “bad evaluation” by really understanding its purpose and message. This might be hard initially—but at some point ask yourself how much of the evaluation was on target and how much was unfair? What parts of the evaluation do you believe have merit and which parts do not? At the end of the day—how much you internalize and learn from the negative feedback—is your choice. With a little distance and time, you might be able to glean some important information about what is expected of you, what benchmarks need to be met, how best to garner support and help from your workplace and what substantive skills need to be improved.

Now onto the comeback part of your question. Armed with this new information about how to improve your skills and what areas need development, enlist the support of more senior attorneys, mentors, partners and professional development individuals to help you improve and hone identified areas of weaknesses. The “comeback” part rests squarely on your shoulders.

By focusing on what can be learned and changed, setting a course of action for either obtaining those needed skills or enlisting the support of others you start to lay a strong foundation for a comeback in attitude, in mindset and in results.

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