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LIV President's Blog 2012

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How to conduct an effective client interview

How to conduct an effective client interview

Clients want to deal with someone they trust and like, so it is important for you to conduct the initial interview to the best of your ability.

I don’t have great memories of my first client interviews. As a legal trainee I interviewed clients on my own as my principal at the time was a strong believer in learning… by swimming in the deep end! Needless to say, it was a steep learning curve.

Interviewing clients is a skill that improves with practice and experience. No doubt I’ll continue to learn throughout my time in practice, but these are some of the best tips I’ve learnt to date:

Before the interview

  • Plan your interview. Some knowledge of the background and issue will help, so ask your client for a brief summary before the interview. You will both feel more at ease at the interview if you have prepared.
  • You and your firm should appear professional to your client. An unkempt appearance or an untidy meeting room is not only distracting, but can also give your client the impression that you aren’t very professional or organised. Be punctual if the meeting is not at your office.

During the interview

  • Your client might be anxious, particularly if they aren’t familiar with the legal system. Introduce yourself with a smile so they feel welcome. Build rapport by engaging in small talk. 
  • Once everyone is seated and settled, let your client know the structure of interview and that you’ll be making notes so they know what to expect. 
  • Invite them to tell you their story or concerns, preferably in chronological order. Often they just need a listening ear. Steer the interview by listening actively. Focus on specific areas that are relevant. Your client doesn’t necessarily know what is relevant but you do!  
  • Avoid legal jargon, be respectful and maintain a balanced amount of eye contact. You should appear calm and collected, even if you feel stressed or nervous (particularly if it’s your first client interview).
  • Sum up the interview and outline steps going forward. Depending on your technical skills and experience you might be able to give a preliminary view. But if in doubt, explain to your client that you to consider the matter carefully before you can form a view. Whatever you do, do not give legal advice without proper consideration – this is negligent! 
  • Discuss legal fees (if applicable) and leave time for questions.
  • Finally, walk your client to the exit and thank them.

Remember not to take things personally. If you have a rude, pushy or condescending client it’s important to stay calm and remain professional. Also consider reporting it to your supervisor.

After the interview

  • Make a detailed file note while it is fresh in your mind.
  • Diarise any follow ups and deadlines.
  • Discuss any concerns with your colleagues/supervisor. 
  • Once approved by your supervisor, send your advice (and any costs disclosure documents) to your client. Call them to let them know you’ve sent it.

Further reading: 

The Oklahoma Bar Association has an excellent article on initial client interviews which you might find useful.

If you have any tips or advice regarding particular experiences you have had, please share them below. I’d love to know what has worked for you.

Nancy Chen
LIV Young Lawyers

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Amanda Storey
Great blog Nancy. One other thing I would add would be to remind clients to bring the documents to the interview or have them email them to you beforehand. I found this happened quite regularly when volunteering at CLCs and your advice and interview will be curtailed if you can't consider a legal documents.
4/12/2012 9:25:33 PM

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