Scoring success in the legal industry takes more than intelligence and communication savvy. Most legal experts list things like networking, personal development, and time management as vital to an attorney’s success, and they would be right. But those things take time to master.
However, there is one skill young lawyers can implement today – this very minute – that has the power to catapult them into future partner status.
The way you walk, sit, stand, and gesture can generate influence, motivation, and a million-dollar salary. Yes, body language - one of the easiest skills to master, and one of the most lucrative.
As much as 60% to 90% of human communication is nonverbal. With the right body language, young attorneys appear confident and credible, resulting in a quick build of positive and productive business relationships.
Since what you say is just as important as how you say it, here are our Top 5 Body Language Tips Power Lawyers Swear By:
Tip #1. Take up space
Whether entering your law firm, attending a conference, or speaking in court, think big in both height and width. Stand tall and command your space. Lengthen your spine and neck. Hold your head high, chin tucked in. Good posture increases your overall height and, according to some studies, your potential salary. A tall, open stance communicates power, confidence, and credibility.
To increase width, keep your shoulders back and square, feet shoulder distance apart, and arms loose at your sides with elbows bent slightly out. When speaking, move around to command more space.
The same goes for sitting. Sit tall, back straight, feet flat on the floor. Expand your presence by sitting at least 12 inches from the table, widening your arms on the arm rests and spreading your work materials out before you.
Tilting the head conveys submission and uncertainty, so keep your head square on your shoulders. Holding your head high doesn’t mean holding your chin high – which can appear pompous. When listening to clients or consulting with coworkers, hold your head high and square, but lower your chin to convey interest and engagement.
Tip #2. Open up
Speaking with hand gestures suggests knowledge and leadership. The key is to appear comfortable and receptive, not aggressive. Keep your gestures open. Open gestures include open hands and arms, palms open facing the audience. Keep your arms at waist height to maintain a relaxed tone.
Closed gestures like arm folding, closed hands, or the backs of the hands facing the audience, can make the speaker appear guarded and unapproachable.
Have a habit of clasping your hands together in front of you while speaking? Break it with a popular gesture used by executives and politicians. Instead of clasping your hands, try touching the tips of your fingers together and holding the palms apart. This “steeple” gesture communicates sincerity and candor (and gives you something to do with your hands without appearing closed off).
Tip #3. About face
Facial expressions are the most persuasive of all non-verbal communication. Again, you want to appear open and receptive, not defensive or intimidating. Even a hard-core veteran prosecutor knows they will achieve more with a warm, accepting face than a cold, hard expression.
It’s important to smile, but slightly. A forced, fake smile can do more damage than good. Just an air of warmth and genuine interest is all you need. Project a positive tone through your eyes. When discussing difficult issues with clients, make certain your facial expressions are attentive and empathetic.
In addition, always keep your face fully visible. Pull your hair back off of your face, keep your hands away from your face, and keep your head upright and square.
Tip #4. Mirror your audience
Studies have shown that mirroring the body language and vocal tone of others facilitates positive relationships, persuasion, and social influence. As long as it’s subtle enough not to be noticed, and limited to positive interactions, this is a powerful tactic.
When meeting one on one with clients, colleagues, or superiors, adjust your speaking pace, speech volume, body posture, and small gestures to match theirs. Displaying similar expressions, movements, and tone makes you relatable and rapidly increases rapport.
You can imagine that this could get creepy if overdone. As with any form of body language, keep it natural and sincere.
Tip #5. Angle your approach
Finally, when working with clients, colleagues, or law practice partners, angle your body position to theirs. Instead of sitting directly across from the other person, angle your chair. This shifts the tone from adversarial to collaborative. Similarly, when standing and speaking to others, stand with your shoulders at an angle to theirs. The positioning is less threatening, creating a more comfortable, cooperative vibe.
As always, a solid handshake and good eye contact complete the package. Feel strange to take on these postures? You know what they say, fake it till you make it. With practice comes habit, and top body language habits attract top law firms, top partnerships, and top opportunities.