Moving from Debate to Dialogue

In response to a thread started on LegalOnRamp by USC’s Gillian Hadfield discussing how to “build better lawyers” I provided the following. I thought it was useful to share here as the application of dialogue over debate is certainly crucial to the ongoing transformation of the legal profession.

A useful case study for this is The Sedona Conference. It is a legal think tank of lawyer, judges, and other experts that work to produce defining principles that guide certain areas of the legal practice. Several times a year professionals from varied backgrounds and practices come together to work through complex issues and ill-defined problems. With all these lawyers in one room it could easily be a haven for uncontrolled debate and typical “lawyering.” However it is anything but. Rather the tone is one of collaboration and teamwork. Sure there are many different takes on the same issue but in the end the work product reflects a thorough analysis and thoughtful approach. So much so that Sedona is often cited in case law and statutes. The reason: Sedona is guided by dialogue NOT debate.

The key is to understand the difference between dialogue and debate. Lawyers learn to debate – arguing a point, anticipating the opposing viewpoint, countering and so on. From Day 1 in law school we are taught this technique and to “think like a lawyer.” Perhaps even before we get to law school many of us are already predisposed to argue and fight verbal battles based on logic and wit. However this type of communication is not conducive to collaboration or teamwork. In a lawyer’s mind someone will win and someone will lose. Also lawyers tend to focus on problems NOT people. On the other hand dialogue is a communication tool used to foster openness and acceptance while allowing for an ultimate conclusion to be reached. Acceptance of opposing ideas is crucial but in the spirit of furthering the conversation not to stop it or the speaker of it. Dialogue focuses on the problems as well as the people recognizing both as well as addressing them.

To return to the initial issue on this thread: Training our lawyers at any stage of their education and/or career to dialogue rather than debate will foster the change spoken of here and create a more “open” and collaborative environment. Being a co-author and active contributor to Sedona has allowed me to gain a stronger sense on how to effectively communicate and work in a team of lawyers. This exposure and experience has been invaluable to me personally and professionally. And I have heard the same from many other members.
Joshua KubickiComment