On Friday February 17, 2012, I spent the afternoon at Creighton University’s School of Law judging the ABA Regional Client Counseling Competition. In sum, teams of two law students from Midwestern law schools were provided with a “client” to interview and counsel over forty-five minute period. Each team interviewed three clients with different legal issues. After completing the interview, the teams were evaluated based on a number of factors. The competition was a incredible reminder of simple steps that should be followed when interviewing a client or potential client. Here are nine thoughts I took away from the competition:
- Active listening and gathering information is just as important as providing advice. You can’t do anything until you have thorough understanding of your client’s potential issue. Don’t assume anything;
- Practical advice can be just as important as legal advice;
- Comfort, empathy and sympathy are extremely effecitive in establishing an open and cooperative attorney-client relationship;
- Immediate, creative and cost-effective problem solving ideas are invaluable when dealing with clients, especially those who have not exeprienced litigation;
- Frank and honest advice is much better than unrealistic expectations;
- Outlining steps for an immediate plan of action and assigning responsibility for what needs to be completed is critical in creating the confidence of the client;
- There is no correct answer for when you should discuss fees, but you have to discuss them;
- There is nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to every question; and
- The ultimate decision is not made by the attorney. It is your responsibility to assist the client in making an informed decision.
Attending the competition was a good reminder of fundamentals, and any reminder of fundamentals is good one.