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Why do Legal Office Assistants need Strong Interpersonal Skills

Legal Office Assistant sitting at her computer. Text on the image says; Why do Legal Office Assistants need strong interpersonal skills?

Working as a legal office assistant can be fulfilling!

You get to help people when they are sometimes at their most desperate and don’t see the silver lining in their own lives. However, if you don’t know how to communicate with that person, you can end up making an already stressful experience even more chaotic.

When a person makes the decision to seek legal help, they are already feeling pretty angry, upset, sad, stressed, or sometimes all of these feelings at once. As the legal office assistant, you are usually the first person these potential clients speak to. Knowing how to speak to the client can go a long way toward securing a lifelong business relationship.

In the course of a day, you can go from working on a real estate transaction, to a custody case, to a personal injury, and then end your day with a probate matter. The ability to switch between the different aspects of legal issues is important, but not as important as your ability to switch between conversations. You wouldn’t speak to a client who is purchasing their first home the same way you would to a parent who is working on a custody case.

What interpersonal skills do you need for legal office administration?

There are numerous things to take into consideration when looking at your interpersonal skills. lists 10 of them as being verbal and non-verbal communication, listening, questioning, manners, problem solving, social awareness, self-management, responsibility, accountability, and assertiveness. While these skills are great to possess in any office environment, it is especially useful to have them in a legal environment.

Proper legal communication with clients

You need to be able to communicate clearly with the client using your focused legal administration training. They need to know exactly what you are saying/asking, because this could be new territory to them. If they are not familiar with the way that a legal matter is handled, they are going to need guidance. The better able you are to verbally communicate this with them, the better!

Non-verbal communication is a big help as well. You could be telling the client one thing verbally, but your non-verbal cues could make them feel differently. Key things to notice about your non-verbal communication is to maintain eye contact, don’t cross your arms, don’t stand in front of the exit, and don’t put your hands on your hips. Something that I have tried in the past is to have a mock conversation with a friend or family member and had them take notes about my non-verbal cues, and how they made them feel. It helped me to get an insight into what my posture and position said to another person, without running the risk of offending them.

While working in legal office administration, it is extremely important to listen to your clients; take notes if you can, but never make them feel like you aren’t listening to what they are saying. Try short-form notes that will allow you to look up and have eye contact; after your meeting, you can type up the information in full from your notes.

Questioning ties in with listening. A client will tell you what they think is important; they may not realize that some smaller things are just as important in a legal setting. Ask questions while they are talking that can pull other information out of them. This will not only help with you’re listening, but it can help you to get the full story that is needed for your records. One big thing about questioning is to make sure they aren’t closed questions (yes or no answers). For example, instead of asking “Did you live with your spouse until a certain date”, you could ask “what events led up to your decision to live separately?” This question will draw out more information that you could use, and it can still help you to secure the main point you need.

Legal office administration customer service

Always remember to keep your manners. An old adage is to treat people as you want to be treated. Try to think of yourself in the client’s shoes. If you were in their situation, how would you want people to interact with you? Most times, you will want to be sympathetic and helpful; let the client know through your manners that you are here to help them in this situation, and that they don’t have to go through it alone.

The ability to solve problems goes a long way in a legal office administration career. This doesn’t mean you will be quoting law or legal terminology to the client; sometimes problem solving is simply knowing what information needs to get to a lawyer quickly, and what information you can look into. You aren’t expected to make the problem go away immediately, but being able to put an action plan in place helps a client to feel as though they made the right choice choosing your firm. This doesn’t mean that your plan will work – not every plan is foolproof. However, having a sound plan in place to help as a starting point is appreciated!!

Keeping your social awareness in gear will help you when working with clients. You want to be able to tune in to what they are feeling without them having to tell you their feelings. Sometimes this can be as easy as looking at the series of events that brought them to you; if they are fighting for custody of their children, you would be pretty safe in assuming that they are upset with their ex-spouse and probably scared of not having their children around them all the time anymore. With proper training in legal office administration, your social awareness will help you determine the best way to communicate with the client!

The ability to know how to put your feelings aside while dealing with a client is the most important interpersonal skill you can have. If you slept through your alarm, were unable to get your morning coffee, and rushed into work just on time, you would probably be in a pretty bad mood. That doesn’t matter when a client walks in the door seeking legal help because their ex-spouse refused to bring the children back after a visitation. The client doesn’t care about your issues, and unfortunately, your issues are not the main focus. You need to be able to put aside your bad day and give your attention to the client; they are not only feeling scared about their children but they are also paying customers. They are paying to tell you their problems, so listen!

Your responsibility as a legal office assistant

Being responsible and accountable for your own actions are huge when working as a legal office assistant. If you tell the lawyer or a client that you will work on something, then do the work. This will show that you are reliable and keep people coming back to seek your assistance. If you make a mistake, own it. Don’t get upset and play the blame game; explain that you understand you made an error and let them know you understand how your mistake affects the situation. This can be extremely hard because no one likes to own up to their own shortcomings. Avoid excuses, and offer a way to rectify the situation. Then, do what you say you will do!

Assertiveness is probably the trickiest of all of the interpersonal skills to master. You want to be able to get your thoughts out there without coming across as being aggressive. This skill works best when dealing with your peers in an office setting and not the clients. Being assertive could be something as easy as selling yourself to your boss when looking for a raise. The key is to believe in yourself and what you bring to the table, without making other people look or feel bad.

How to become a legal office assistant

These skills are just a few of the interpersonal skills you will find come in handy when employed in the field of legal office administration. If you feel that you already have a good grasp on these, then the field of legal office assistant could be for you! Check out Centre for Distance Education and the Legal Office Administration program online. Get the skills to be a legal office assistant in 64 weeks online. Currently working? Get an online distance education and earn a diploma in legal office administration from the convenience of your home

At the end of the day, there is no better feeling than knowing that you helped a client get exactly what they wanted, and seeing their smiling face as they leave the office can clear up any grey sky!