Monday, October 12, 2009

Put Your Lawyer Voice On

The hardest skill I had to learn when I started my first legal internship was not necessarily the law firm filing system or what an Interrogatory was or even how to work the crazy toilet handles in the bathroom (push up for "solids" and down for "liquids"- weird huh?!). No, the hardest skill I had to learn was how to talk. More specifically, how to sounds like a lawyer. I don't mean learning the legal jargon or how to sound like an intellectual asswipe. I mean, I had to train myself to talk in a "lawyer" voice.

My voice used to do this totally involuntary thing when speaking to elders, bosses, teachers, strangers or any time I was socially intimidated or shy. My voice would transform into a high, soft and "sweet" chorus of a sound. Like I said, it was basically invountary, kind of like a nervous eyetwich or something. Anyway, I was ok with this for many years. It worked great when I worked retail or did childcare.

But when I started my first legal internship, I knew, without a doubt that the "sweet" voice had to go. And not only because I had to listen to that voice over my own voicemail one day- it was horrific. It became clear to me that no Partner or client would liked to hear about a quantum assessment of damages from a sweet and unassuming voice. Partners, clients and other lawyers want to hear case analysis from an authoritative and confident voice. Similarly, it became clear to me that no one would take me seriously or treat me as an equal if I continued to use my timid voice. Somehow, I needed to be bolder and more firm.

I hate to say it like this, but when it comes to lawyer voices, the more stereotypically male you sound (as in deeper, stronger voice), the more credibility and authority your arguments and statements will possess. In a (still predominantly) man's career- you have to be as assertive and confident sounding as your peers do. Don't get the wrong picture of me, I don't walk around the lawschool or the office spouting words from the depths of a deep baritone voice. But I did have to train my voice not to automatically become an octave or two higher when conversing at work and at school. I had to train myself to just talk in my normal voice- if not a touch deeper.

Voice may seem like a small, petty thing but I think it is as important as how you dress in the workplace. I think most people are likely to have their first encounter with you over the phone or from a voicemail message. You want to leave the impression that you are confident rather than a timid pushover. I think this is especially important for a woman working in a man's field.

For the most part, experience with, knowledge in and comfort with the legal field and legal work is what helped me sound confident in my voice and in my tone. I still catch myself once in a while resorting to my old "sweet and timid" ways and it is still a struggle for me to keep confident and sound confident (especially meeting new people and being in new situations) but I'm slowly getting there. My opinion is, if you try to make yourself sound like a confident and authoritative person who is comfortable in her own skin in the first place, it is easier to feel that way.

When all else fails, for a confidence booster, start singing "Eye of the Tiger" to yourself while imagining everyone else in a sheer girly panties.


Anonymous said...

i call my octave-higher voice my "super marker voice." i discovered i had it when i was in mid-rant with a friend on my cell phone - but had to pause and COMPLETELY transform my voice to ask a store clerk where something was. it was so instantaneous i didn't even notice it...until said friend mocked me for a good 15 minutes. nipped that in the bud.

Gillian said...

I do that, too. I go up at the end of phrases, kind of question-like. I try not to do it, I'm 31 years old for heaven's sake!

Several girls in my class keep whining about how they're so dumb, they just don't get it, I'm totally gonna faaaaaiiiilllll in that high whiny voice. I want to tell them - look, kiddoes, this is a man's world and they are looking for any excuse to eat you up and make you lesser. Don't give 'em such an easy out.

I guess I need to remind myself of that!

Portia said...

I do this all the time. I am still training my voice to change... but I completely agree that people take you more seriously when your voice is lower. Didn't CM do a post on something like this a while back? maybe it was a really long while back...

CM said...

How did you train yourself out of that? I have the same problem.

Cee said...

I still do it a lot. I kind of practice my voice at home as lame as that sounds so that I can comfortably switch to it when I need to. Like when you wake up in the morning and have to answer the phone- I don't know about you but I have to practice saying hello to get the sleepiness out of my voice. But when I catch myself at work, I just pause for a second and try to get back "into the zone"...I think once I started feeling more confident at work and more comfortable around my co-workers and boss it became so much easier.