Learning Client Interviewing
As a law student, at some point in the rapidly approaching future, you are probably going to deal with a real life client. Your first client meetings can be a daunting experience. What if you don’t know the answer to their questions? What if they don’t like you and refuse to give you the information you need? These are often things that run through the heads of baby lawyers prior to meeting with a client.
Don't panic! You’ll soon discover that meeting clients is nowhere near as scary as you first anticipated...
Look, Listen, Learn
It’s highly unlikely you will be alone when you meet a client for the first time – in fact, probably not for the first 20 times. If you are an intern or doing PLT, more often than not, there will be a more experienced lawyer to talk you through the process. Listen and learn from them. You’ll soon pick up the knack of client interviewing just by watching client meetings, so when it comes time to do it on your lonesome, you’ll practically be an expert. In the interim, have a go at some client interviewing competitions at uni to increase your skills and confidence.
When a client is talking, take notes. You may have very limited time with a client, or you may have many billable hours. Either way, do yourself a favor and take notes. If you’ll be presenting a bail application 10 minutes after you speak with a recently arrested client, it is a necessity. If you have to present a file note to your boss about the meeting, it’s a very good idea.
Never make Guarantees
You are not allowed to! As a law student, you are not allowed to give legal advice. Even if you think you know what the probable outcome of the matter might be, do not guarantee your client that they will get bail, that they will or will not get certain penalties, or that they will get a certain amount of money.
Often clients will tell you what punishments they don’t want or what they would like the other party to do, but if these are unlikely, it’s important to explain this to the client. If you’re a lawyer, tell them what you can realistically aim for, but also ensure that they are aware of other possibilities or problems that you may encounter. Give yourself time to research any issues that you can’t answer straight away and don’t feel pressured to advise the client in the meeting if you’re not 100% sure of the relevant law.
Finally, just remember that if someone needs to see a lawyer, it isn’t because something fantastic has happened to them. If you are feeling a little intimidated, imagine how the client is feeling. Although many people perceive lawyers to be heartless and money hungry, we all know this is not the case. If you’re empathetic and kind, clients will be more relaxed and you will get a lot more information from a client if they trust you and feel like you understand them.
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