5 Things Lawyers Can Learn from Steve Jobs

5 Things Lawyers can learn from Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was known for many things – but one of the most striking to me was his ability to capture the attention of an audience, keep them tuned in to his message and take action. These are precisely the skills we need to do our jobs as attorneys because we are always presenting to others to inform and inspire some sort of action.

As attorneys we are always presenting. You might be arguing a case to a judge or jury. You might be explaining a legal theory to a client. Perhaps you are negotiating a settlement or writing a brief. Or you might be making a “traditional” presentation at a community or professional event. Whatever the case, the presentation secrets of that Steve Jobs will help you be more effective – and have more fun doing it.

1. Have a compelling headline. Jobs always had a headline to capture the attention of his audience. Effective headlines are always short. To build a headline you have to have a clear vision of what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to persuade, educate, inform – or all of the above?  It is important that the headline be consistent throughout your argument. We can tend to think of marketing when we think of headlines – but the concept applies to a brief, a negotiation or an argument. It’s the one thing you can keep coming back to – and it’s what people will remember above all.

2. Make it easy to follow your story. Jobs wove a story into his presentation and used  the headline to set it up. He then clearly outlined where he was gong to take the audience, and walked them through it a step at a time. We are experts in the subject matter of our practice which can make it easy for us to zoom right though important concepts that our listeners need to understand to keep up. Be certain that you know your audience and match the organization and pace of your presentation to their ability to keep up. This applies to one-on-one client meetings as well as negotiations and court appearances.

3. Use simple visuals. If you have the opportunity to use visual aids in your presentation they need to be simple and include visual cues. Remember that visual aids – such as PowerPoint slides – can be powerful tools in small meetings too – especially when trying to illustrate difficult concepts. As attorneys we are more comfortable with words than the average person. By introducing simple visuals you will increase understanding and keep the audience engaged. Do you remember when Jobs’ pulled the MacBook Air from a simple interoffice envelope? That one visual told a story that would have taken hundreds (or thousands) of words. Tip: Try using a simple visual aid the next time you have to explain an important concept to a client or prospective client.

4. Be genuine and passionate.   Jobs always brought all of himself to his presentations. This works even when (or perhaps especially when) we are presenting complex or what others may think of as dry material. If you are not passionate and engaged in your message then you can’t expect the same you’re your audience. Of course we also need to balance passion with logic and civility. Bringing your whole self and your voice to your message will increase your effectiveness.

5.   Practice, Practice, Practice.   In our time-crunched worlds it can be difficult to make the time to rehearse what we are presenting – especially if we have done it many times before. One of the things that the world’s best speakers all have in common is the extensive preparation and rehearsal to make their presentations seem effortless.

Take a moment to stop and reflect on these ideas. Expand your definition of “presentation”. In what ways do you present in your practice – even if you are not the type of person will stand up before a traditional audience? How will these ideas help you?

I have been studying great presenters for years – largely because I make traditional presentations and run workshops all the time. Yet in this study I’ve always find ideas – like these – that can be applied in many different ways.

See Jobs in Action in these video clips:

This is a 7 minute clip illustrating the 5 points above.


Jobs’ Famous Stanford Commencement Speech (19 minutes long but worth it).

About the Author

Bill Jawitz, Law Firm Coach and Consultant

Bill Jawitz has been coaching lawyers to become more profitable and enjoy a higher quality of life since 2002.

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