The Voice of a Law Office

by Jamison Koehler on April 13, 2010
D.C. skyline

A couple of weeks ago, I changed the message on my office voice mail.  My 19-year-old daughter had done the original recording, but, after listening to it back, we both agreed that her voice sounded too girlish.

So, instead, I asked my former sister-in-law if she could do it. I thought my sister-in-law’s British accent would sound classy. I also hoped that her low voice would provide the sense of gravitas I wanted to convey for my firm.  The law is, after all, serious business, particularly criminal law.  And my sister-in-law was pleased to become “The Voice of Koehler Law.”

I used to know an otherwise very impressive prosecutor who had, I thought, only two major weaknesses in court. First, like my daughter, her voice sounded too girlish. Second, she had a tendency to raise her voice at the end of each statement as if she were asking a question.

When I told my wife about this, my wife said that this is because we socialize women to speak that way.

When she herself was a young attorney, she took a training course that included work on addressing the court. The instructor worked with my wife in lowering her voice by several degrees and in eliminating other verbal tics the instructor said were typically associated with women.

In providing this training, however, the instructor warned my wife of two things.  First, the instructor said, my wife couldn’t have one voice for court and another voice for her daily life. She would need to incorporate the voice she wanted to use in court into the voice she used every day. That’s the only way it would ever become natural to her. Second, the instructor warned my wife that, while the new skills would greatly improve her performance in court, they would also have negative effects on her socially.  Our society just doesn’t tolerate women who speak loudly and more assertively – who, in other words, speak just like men.

My wife took these lessons very seriously, and has worked on her voice and her delivery ever since.  The changes have been so gradual, so imperceptible, that neither of us was really aware of it until my daughter pointed it out the other day.  My daughter had been watching some old videotapes in which my wife was hardly older than my daughter is today.  “Mom,” my daughter said.  “You sounded so different back then.”

5 Comments on “The Voice of a Law Office

  1. That’s very interesting. I am wondering if your wife’s “new voice” helps or hurts in front of a jury that might include some very traditionally-minded people. And I am tempted to call your voice message to find out what your former sister-in-law sounds like.

  2. I’m often mistaken for my wife when I answer the phone … good thing I didn’t go into law.

  3. Is it the British accent that does it? Go back to not helping people, George.

  4. You think I could make a living by doing people’s voicemail recordings with my accent?
    And not to seem picky, old chap, but “British accent” is like saying “North American accent.” So mine would be English, and your sis-in-law’s?
    Oddly enough, my wife doesn’t even notice mine any more but every time she hears a Scottish accent she melts.

  5. Women now make up over 50 percent of many law school graduating classes. Next thing you know, guys will have to attend classes on “Incorporating that Feminine Mystique into Your Trial Skills.”

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