Rapport in the Courtroom

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This whole blog is becoming devoted to the more personal issues in my life. As you may know, I’m a lawyer (solicitor) a mediator and now an NLP Practictioner. I hope to develop my NLP training into something greater.

This blog post is about one small aspect of NLP – rapport – and how and why it is an essential skill for lawyers (barristers, solicitors, legal executives and, gosh, even secretaries) to have.

Rapport is defined in a multitude of ways, but effectively it’s when two people are connected when communicating, they are on the same wavelength. Rapport takes a while to get used and probably a life time to master but here are some useful steps:

1. Make eye contact first, smile, introduce yourself. Receive the others introduction, repeat their name, ask them something about themselves that’s linked to the environment you’re in.
2. Listen. Actively listen to what the person has to say, as if they are the wisest person you’ve met (they won’t be, but still be interested in them).
3. Pace them/tune in to what they are saying, reflect it back, rephrase it, support them, be empathic. Here’s where you start to build the relationship and let them know you’re listening.
4. Once you have the person on side, you can then lead/tune out, probe, question, reality check, reframe the important stuff or get them to think about their perceptions or beliefs differently.

Every two way conversation needs rapport at its core or else it will be difficult. A one way battle. Like banging your head against the wall. Falling on deaf ears.

How does rapport apply to lawyers and particularly as the title of this blog, in the Courtroom.

I was in Court for an Case Management Conference last week, up against a barrister from London (own account, no chambers). Even before going him, just a polite question from me as to whether his instructing solicitors had provided him with draft directions. The response: pft, we won’t need them after this morning snort snort. Hmm, I said, I wholeheartedly disagree your application is going nowhere fast, so we’ll need to agree directions for Trial. Response: ha, another waste of costs if you ask me, your client is bound to lose, so no point in going to Trial.

In walks Her Honour. I make eye contact and smile. Counsel begins. I’m almost ready to make the unusual step of asking the Court to disregard any submissions on summary judgement because no application has been made just included in submissions filed last yesterday, when the Judge does it for me.

But but but… Counsel continued to argue, not in the legal sense either and indeed at one point the Judge told him to stop squabbling. Counsel was a man without any rapport, any awareness. It was a losing battle but he persisted, which is normally admirable but only when respectful or done intelligently. Counsel had none of the above.

That’s the last I want to hear of that today, let’s look at the other issues, said the Judge.

And so the “spat” between Counsel and Judge continued, me a mere byestander watching, smiling, smirking. A lesson in how not to do advocacy. I’m not an advocacy expert, I do it when required, I don’t profess to be any good. Just honest, to the point and hopefully intelligently. But watching Counsel made me realise that having rapport is incredibly powerful.

Unrapportfulness is yawning and saying sorry that’s boring, when someone is telling you a story. Rapport is truly genuinely being awed by the story.

Counsel had zero rapport. He was literally arguing with the Judge at one point – a battle never to be won.

Last week was a lesson how not to do things. It was also a good demonstration on how my knowledge of NLP can be powerfully used, even as a lawyer.