Building the 21st Century Law Firm

Ask Daliah: Stand tall in your use of body language

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Daliah Saper

Dear Daliah: You’re only 5-foot-2? You seem … taller.

Dear Reader: It’s a question I get quite often and one that I thought would be a great segue for this month's article.

How aware are you of your body language, posture and appearance? Does your strut convey confidence or cowardice? Do your clothes look clean and pressed, or do they look disheveled and badly in need of dry cleaning?

Here are a few body language and personal branding tips that I have found useful and try to consciously implement:

    Be nice. Stay cool. When I stroll into court, the first thing I do is find opposing counsel. If I have never met them in person, I make sure to introduce myself, give them a firm handshake, make eye contact and smile warmly (if appropriate). I do this even I can’t stand them or if we have had a particularly heated conversation over the phone. Being nice can be disarming.

    If nice isn’t an option, then the next best bet is to mimic the tone and body language of the other person. If they are using slow and deliberate language, don’t escalate your voice to make your point. If you are seated, and they are leaning back (which is often a power play), lean back as well. If they are eagerly leaning in and you want to build rapport, lean in, too.

    Bring a posse, and choose your seat wisely. Where you sit is just as important as how you sit. The tone and tenor of an entire negotiation can be set from the outset based on how you choose to configure the room and how many people you bring with you. If you want a more collaborative approach, try not to sit directly across from your adversaries.

    Try not be outnumbered. Because of the type of law I practice, I’m often up against big firms who send a small army of people to court hearings, settlement conferences, and depositions. To the extent possible, I try to anticipate how many people I’ll be up against and bring another associate, or even a law clerk, with me if I have to. It is also helpful to have another person with you to help you monitor the body language of the other people in the room. For example, while I’m busy reading off a set of demands, I can have another associate carefully scrutinize the opposing counsel’s reaction to each demand.

    Building the 21st-Century Law Firm: See the rest of our coverage.Silence is golden. A truly skilled negotiator has mastered the art of not reacting at all. (I’m not great at this yet.) When there is no reaction, or silence, this typically makes the other side uncomfortable. They will quickly try to justify what they are saying, concede points, or reveal information prematurely. So … as we instruct our clients to do in responding to depositions, we should remind ourselves—wait 10 seconds, then respond.

    Let your reputation precede you. As soon as I have been retained in any case, I like to look up the bio of my opposing counsel. And I do this by initiating an internet search—not just going to their firm’s website. Typically I land on a LinkedIn page or other (perhaps inadvertently) publicly available Facebook or Instagram pages. What I find ranges from the expected to the “oh my god, does he know I can see that?” So … have you Googled yourself lately? Are you comfortable with the results? Could your head shot be better? Are you wearing an appropriate outfit in the right color? First impressions are important, and often they are made without your knowledge. Control them to the extent possible.

As lawyers, we spend so much time on practice management that we forget to invest a bit of time on personal management. Consider taking a few hours this weekend to clean out your closet, update your online profiles, and practice counting to 10.

Daliah Saper, founder of Saper Law Offices, is answering reader questions about building a 21st-century law firm. She can be reached at [email protected].

Daliah Saper opened Saper Law Offices, an intellectual property, digital media, entertainment and business law firm based in Chicago, in 2005. Saper is regularly interviewed on national TV, radio and in several publications, including Fox News, CNN, CNBC, ABC News, 20/20, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. She is an adjunct professor of entertainment law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

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