Saturday, 18 April 2009

Oral v. Written Communication

I was thinking recently about just how good my communication skills are. To begin with I was just wondering how I came across to other people. A friend told me recently that she always found that I always spoke with a lot of weight. When I asked her to go into more detail, she said that if we were talking in a group and I started saying something others would have to stop talking and listen. When I said that was probably for the simple reason that we don't talk over each other, she said no - it was more than that. I think I finally got to the bottom of what she was trying to say when she concluded that I had a voice that people enjoyed listening to. I was very surprised to hear such remarks. It made me start listening to my own voice critically. When I spoke to her on another day she said I sounded different. I said that couldn't possibly be the case: since the last time we had spoken my voice hadn't changed one bit. I couldn't convince her - she said I was trying too hard now! Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't.

Anyway, now I've been thinking about the importance of oral communication skills to a barrister. The one point of comparison that I do have is with my written communication. I have always felt that my written communication - especially when arguing points in essays etc - is stronger than my oral communication. I don't believe its the case that I have the opportunity to revise my written remarks for submitting a final version. In fact I hardly ever do that. I just feel that when I put pen to paper, ideas flow more freely and in a more organised fashion. It could be that because writing takes more time, I have a little bit more time to think. I'm convinced that is not the case though.

What I want to know is if this is the case for any other wannabe barristers or practising barristers out there? Are your written communication skills better than your oral communication skills? And would you say that you are at a disadvantage to practitioners who are the opposite?

As a side issue: I asked a friend of mine who recently secured tenancy at her chambers what surprised her about a barrister's life during pupillage. Her response was that she had underestimated the importance of skeleton submissions to judges. So maybe it isn't all bad if my strengths are in my writing rather than my speech.

I know anyone reading this doesn't know how I sound but I'm interested in your opinions generally on these two forms of communication.

Thanks for your help.


Android said...

These are just skills, and skills get better with practice.

Like you, I think that at the moment I'm better 'on paper', because I get more time to think, draft and re-draft my thoughts. At the beginning of the BVC, everyone was shocking at advocacy, and you wouldn't believe how quickly people started improving with advocacy classes. So yea, practice is the key...

In relation to being at a disadvantage because your written skills are better than your speaking, or vice versa, I think it's a bit unrealistic at the Bar. As a barrister, you have to be good at *advocacy*, which is both written and oral.

If people like listening to you, then you've already got an advantage over loads of others!

Law Minx said...

I am of the opinion that we are all essentially better on paper - at least to begin with; as Andro says, it allows for constant redrafting and reorgansiation of thought, and thereby improves clarity.
Oral Advocacy is, to my mind, a slightly different skill set from its written cousin, in as much as you have an idea of what you are going to say at the outset and find your argument substantially ammended by the interference of judges or opposing counsel, or of the pound for pound unreliability of the erratic witness, but is one that can be acquired - in fact, its a fantastic challenge, and if you already have a persuasive personality, and are the sort whom people sit up and take note of, you won't go far wrong in this department!!
Though Barristers obviously undertake both components, some skew their practice leanings more heavily toward one form than the other; I know a barrister specialising in Shipping Law who can count the number of times hes been to court in the last couple of years on the fingers of one hand but has an extremely busy paper practice.Criminal Barristers on the other hand, are on their feet almost constantly and often long for a day in chambers to catch up!! In short its nice to be able to do both, but in time, you may find you have a preference for one form of advocacy above the other, and in this respect I can't WAIT to see what happens next!!!

Lacklustre Lawyer said...

Thanks to you both for your responses. From what you have said it seems like I will have to give this a bit more thought as it has a bearing on the type I of law I want to practise. Also, as I am yet to do the BVC that too will obviously improve these skills.

Thanks again.