How Strategic Listening Can Bolster Your Practice


meeting-room-828547_1920While lectures will always have their place in CLE, many attorneys would no doubt welcome a fresh program, one that mixes learning styles and uses engaging, interactive techniques to aid retention.

“Strategic Listening for Lawyers,” an on-demand CLE produced by the Practising Law Institute’s Interactive Learning Center, is one such program. 

Presented by Alicia Aiken, a principal at the Danu Center for Strategic Advocacy, the program uses presentations, scenarios, and sets of interactive questions to explain, illustrate, and reinforce important concepts related to strategic listening. This blended approach holds learners’ attention by varying the tone and tempo throughout the program, and by using narrative techniques as well as that classic retention tool — the quiz.

In the first of her brief presentations, Aiken calls strategic listening “one of the toughest professional skills for [an attorney] to master.” 

She explains that it’s important to identify  three types of listening, each requiring a different skill set: 1) listening to discover, 2) listening to partner, and 3) listening to advocate.

The program moves beyond just talking heads, with professionally acted and produced — yet highly plausible — scenarios. The first scene shows an attorney’s initial meeting with a client, when the attorney should be listening to discover. 

The character — her name is Terry — unfortunately does not do well. She repeatedly interrupts her client and doesn’t truly hear what the woman is trying to express, a disappointing outcome when the goal is to uncover information and build rapport.

An interactive set of questions follows this scene, reinforcing the lesson and engaging the viewer. A feedback section goes over the answers, another effective reinforcement and retention technique. Participants are  immersed in a narrative that is threaded with practical tips to improve strategic listening, including the importance of deferring judgment.

The second type of strategic listening is listening to partner. Understanding this skill requires a nuanced transition. This time, a set of interactive questions is offered before the narrative scene, which helps viewers shift from the earlier topic and begin thinking about a new set of problems.

Aiken notes that when listening to partner, the attorney begins to share the floor but does not command the stage. Space must be left for the client to reveal new information.

This section also notes the four steps in transition, culminating in an agreement as to what will happen next. Among the tips Aiken offers, she says the hardest may be to manage emotions — the attorney’s as well as the client’s.

“It’s normal to get frustrated if you don’t perceive that the session is productive, but giving in to emotions isn’t helpful,” Aiken says.

The last kind of strategic listening is listening to advocate, which can be objections in the courtroom, depositions, or adversarial interviews on behalf of the client. “Classic lawyer stuff,” says Aiken.

Listening to advocate is about controlling the agenda and listening to others with the intention to preempt, respond, and integrate. Multitasking is not only recommended, but necessary. 

Attorneys must read the room. They must get a sense of the best time to interrupt. Too late, and they risk having the client reveal privileged information. Too soon, and the attorney lacks authority, like jumping the gun on a hearsay objection.

The final scene in the case narrative shows a deposition nearly crumbling into disaster, where the client identifies more with opposing counsel than her own attorney. But Terry — the attorney learning to listen — regains control of the agenda in the end by skillfully managing emotions, both hers and the clients.

Though listening is essential for legal work, few lawyers are taught to do it well. This program highlights the concrete actions attorneys should take to succeed with strategic listening — without sacrificing zealous advocacy.

You can view the program here. 

Learn and practice new skills with additional interactive programs from the learning design experts at PLI – visit  


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