As an attorney, you’ll spend a great deal of your time preparing for cases by conducting client interviews. It’s a skill you learned early (and often) in law school -- usually while going over the minutiae of what questions to pose to clients as part of your basic legal curriculum.
Nevertheless, even if you are a seasoned professional, there may be a few key points you’re overlooking – points that could very well make these client meetings more productive. That said, here are a few tips to enhance your client’s experience and your own effectiveness as an interviewing lawyer.
1. Be Sensitive and Personable
Depending on the situation, your client may be reticent about sharing personal information with someone they hardly know, even if it is their lawyer. Most attorney-client conversations cover sensitive topics, so it’s paramount to meet these matters with compassion to develop a strong rapport with the client.
Also, your ability to empathize with a client’s situation gives you a clearer understanding of what brought them to you initially. Using active listening techniques, such as making eye contact, nodding at appropriate times and offering reassurance, you can help a client overcome their reluctance to communicate every important detail related to their case.
2. Ask the Right Question
Your first interview with a client typically begins with one or two questions regarding their motives for seeking legal counsel. From here, you can direct the conversation to the specifics of their case, or with clients you’ve already met with before, dive further into anything that could either help them, or hurt them, in court.
Knowing what type of questioning technique to use for every answer you’re seeking is critical. Here are three of the most common types of questions and the responses to expect:
- Open-ended questions encourage clients to talk freely about their situation, and can be supplemented with more open-ended questions such as, “Then what took place afterward?”
- Narrow questions search out key details without allowing the client to deviate too far from the purpose of the interview.
- Yes-No and leading questions put you in the conversational driver’s seat, where you ask specific questions about whether something did or didn’t happen, or you are confirming information being provided by the client.
3. Avoid Legal Jargon
Even highly educated clients may have a difficult time understanding what many lawyers think of as very basic legal terminology. While it’s important to come across as highly competent and professional during your interview, you’ll also want to make sure you’re speaking to your client in a way they can grasp, and many times casual-professional works best.
4. Manage Client Expectations
Of the four listed, managing client expectations is far and away the most customer service-oriented, as well as the most complex. Typically, managing expectations refers to letting your client know what steps you’ll be taking next on their case, and how long these steps will likely take. But there are also several other ways you can help them understand more about the process you’ll be undertaking, and how you’ll keep them in the loop on any ongoing matters.
- Your client should be made aware of the potential costs of working on their case, and give their approval on hourly or flat fee structures.
- Only offer counsel on items you fully understand. Admitting you need to do some research versus getting something wrong is critical to building trust with your client
- Let your client know how often you will be contacting them once they’ve signed their agreement, as well as what to prepare for in terms of gathering documentation, attending court and other case-related items.
A great way to stay in touch with your clients more frequently, while gathering documents and sharing information privately, is through case management software hosted over a private cloud. Try out our free demo of AbacusLaw if you’re interested in seeing how case management software transforms your firm’s day-to-day, and lets you focus on what matters most: your practice and your clients.