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:

  1. 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;
  2. Practical advice can be just as important as legal advice;
  3. Comfort, empathy and sympathy are extremely effecitive in establishing an open and cooperative attorney-client relationship;
  4. Immediate, creative and cost-effective problem solving ideas are invaluable when dealing with clients, especially those who have not exeprienced litigation;
  5. Frank and honest advice is much better than unrealistic expectations;
  6. 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;
  7. There is no correct answer for when you should discuss fees, but you have to discuss them;
  8. There is nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to every question; and
  9. 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.