7 Phrases that Make Lawyers Sound Incompetent

By Law Firm Suites - September 29, 2016
7 Phrases that Make Lawyers Sound Incompetent

Lawyers have a fear of sounding unintelligent or incompetent, use these tips to help you showcase your expertise within your practice area.

There is a massive drive for most lawyers to always sound intelligent and informed. Lawyers respect competence in others, which means they are most likely insecure about sounding incompetent to their clients and peers.

Appearing incompetent to both clients and colleagues can set your firm on a downward trajectory. Language, whether it be verbal or written, is where most people look for confidence and reassurance, especially when speaking with an attorney.

Here are the seven words to avoid that can give you an incompetent impression to clients and other lawyers alike:

1. Maybe

You are an expert in your practice area, especially if you have developed your firm to serve a particular niche group. Saying maybe makes you sound like the opposite.

When talking with a client or providing insight for a peer, every question or crossing thought should be answered with a yes or no. Competent people have answers and they’re able to make a choice between whether something can or cannot be done.

2. Sorry

Sorry is a word that is too often expressed. It should only be used for a genuine apology when you make actual mistakes or truly feel genuine remorse for a person or situation.

Overusing sorry will make you sound less sincere during those moments that do require an apology. Also, it can give the impression of procrastination, that you are apologizing to buy yourself more time. A helpful tip to overcome overusing sorry is to say “Thank You” in its place.

3. Like

“Like, does this make me sound more professional?” No. If you want to sound professional and articulate, you cannot ramble on like a juvenile.

Like is used most often as a filler word, stalling the conversation and allowing you to prolong your thoughts. A simple fix to help avoid overusing “like” is to simply slow down. This will not only help you to focus on speaking clearly and using the right word but will also help listeners better comprehend what you are saying.

4. Actually

There is always that one person who seems to know it all and constantly corrects everyone around them. While you are an expert in your practice area, and some of the things your clients say might not be true, try to refrain from over correcting them by saying actually.

If there comes a time when you need to say actually, try using simply, really or truly instead. This can make you sound more old-fashioned, but that is better than coming off as rude.

5. Just

Similarly to like, just is a filler word that does more harm than good. Often we say it without realizing, and this can make you sound tentative, unsure or even apologetic.

In addition to other filler words such as like, um or okay, you will avoid sounding incompetent by focusing on what you are saying/writing and removing them all together.

6. Hopefully

Using the word hopefully will leave a similar impression to maybe. It goes against the personal brand of expertise you have worked so hard to achieve. Hopefully will make you sound unsure, passive and unreliable.

Remember, intelligent people are decisive and give straightforward answers. Don’t “beat around the bush” or give your clients any sense of false hope. Your clients will appreciate the quick and honest response, and you will enhance your brand as an expert.

7. Confused

To be confused is human, but when discussing with clients, admitting to confusion can have adverse effects. Confusion is the opposite of confidence. No client wants an unconfident lawyer representing them, and no colleague will want you providing insight on their case.

You can get around this dilemma by simply rewording your responses. Instead of claiming to be confused, you could simply ask “can you explain …?” or state, “I need more details about…”

In order to have a long and successful legal career, you will need both clients and colleagues. If you sound incompetent, you are far less likely to get either. Use these tips to avoid words that lead to an incompetent image, and show off your expertise in your practice area.
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8 thoughts on “7 Phrases that Make Lawyers Sound Incompetent

  1. Nem Singh
    on said:

    While you are an expert in your practice area, and some of the things your clients say might not be true, try to refrain from over correcting them by saying actually.

  2. Anne Moore
    on said:

    Other conversational red flags are the use of absolutes (e.g., never, always) and abundant sarcasm. Sound legal thought rarely relies on extreme composition or a constant flow of sarcastic humor. A smattering of sarcasm interspersed with keen analysis can be viewed as intellectual. However, the constant use of sarcasm can become an annoyance and has no place during intelligent, efficient conversation.

  3. This is like, excellent advice, actually. Thank you.

    I would just add that it’s also worth making the effort to talk like a human, not a lawyer and express thoughts simply. It seems to be the case that our first impressions are influenced more by how language feels than by what it says. You have probably read Daniel Kahneman’s great book, Thinking Fast and Slow. This effect was proved by Kahneman’s Princeton colleague Danny Oppenheimer, in a 2005 paper wryly entitled: “Consequences of Erudite Use of Vernacular Utilised Irrespective of Necessity: problems of using long words needlessly. As Kahneman puts it, Oppenheimer demonstrates that “couching ideas in pretentious language is taken as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility”.

    My only other thought is that not only should “awesome” be on the banned list, but that anyone using it In a professional discussion should be given a draft of hemlock and asked to do the right thing as discreetly as possible.

  4. I recall many years ago that a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court openly commented that from his experience: “Fifty percent of all trial lawyers are incompetent.” Does anyone recall what Justice that might have been?

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