III Client Interview Skills 2013

Effective Client
Interview Skills:
Elizabeth Wehner
Basic Lawyer Skills Training
December 4th, 2013
Building Effective Client Interview Skills
Real World Legal Services
Translation -How to:
1) put your client at
ease and gain her trust
(2) so you can elicit
critical legal
information to assess
her case . . .
Building Effective Client Interview Skills
Real World Legal Services
Translation -How to:
1) put your client at
ease and gain her trust
(2) to elicit critical legal
information and assess
her case . . .
(3) while her screaming
toddler scribbles on your
Basic Interview Assumptions
Setting the Stage and Doing your Homework
Conducting the Interview
When the circumstances are less than ideal …
Some final tips
Basic Interview Assumptions:
What are the qualities of someone
who is an effective interviewer?
(Legal or otherwise?)
2 minute discussion in pairs
to identify a few qualities and
report at least one to the group.
An Effective Interviewer:
 Well
prepared / has done homework
 Puts you at ease
 Listens carefully
 Curious – asks good follow up questions
An Effective
 Acts
like a real lawyer
 Manages expectations
 Explains what comes next by way of
follow up
Setting the Stage and Doing
your Homework:
Setting the Stage and Doing
your Homework:
Five minute discussion with partner: how
could attorney preparation have
made for a better interview?
Prepare to report back something you
saw or something she could have done.
Setting the Stage and Doing
your Homework:
Review all relevant and available
documents in advance:
 Client
paperwork (DHHR letters, pleadings,
 Areas of law that apply
 Checklists, statutes, model pleadings
Setting the Stage and Doing
your Homework:
Make sure your interview space is ready:
 Tidy
and clear of confidential material
 “Intake” documents available (authorization,
retainer, HIPPA form, etc).
 Distraction free
If your office isn’t,
seek other options.
Conducting the Interview:
Conducting the Interview:
Five minute discussion with partner: what
did you see that worked well and what
could be improved?
Prepare to report back an observation
on the interview.
An Effective
Structured and
Open ended
Balancing Structured with
Open Ended:
Introductions, confidentiality, any time constraints,
sign forms if in person, what we’ll do today
So tell me what is going on with your case at DHHR/
your housing situation/ the situation that led you to
file the EPO?
Your clarifying follow up questions – mix closed/
opened ended questions here.
Wrap up and clear outline of next steps by both
you and client.
Interviewing goals:
 Wants “help”
(mainly understood
as direct rep) with
perceived legal
 Wants to tell story
to respectful,
attentive listener
 Assess viability of
legal claims
 Assess credibility &
strengths as witness
 Assess negative
factors in case
 Manage
expectations as
How can you assess the
negative factors in the case?
Two minute discussion with partner: how
can you get a sense of your case’s
weaknesses and how does that impact
your interview?
Prepare to report back.
How can you assess the
negative factors in the case?
Even if it’s not true, what are the 3 worst things
the other side will say about you?
What is the other side going to say about you
as a tenant/ employee?
Ask the key follow ups – especially when
drugs/ criminal activity/ abuse are raised
Probe what evidence exists to support case
If need be, condition direct representation on
confirming strengths of case via outside proof,
and clearly notify client as to timeline.
Wrapping up the interview:
 Ask
client if anything else at all they think
you need to know.
 If you learn/ know case will terminate as
advice, review the advice with the client
and explain why not providing direct rep.
 Explain what will happen next.
 Provide contact information to client for
follow up, if needed.
Some tricky situations:
Toddlers and babies on board
Insistent parents, partners, and friends
Interviewing at the Courthouse
Clients with unreasonable expectations
Belligerent clients
Phone interviews (3rd parties in room, safety
issues, when do they make sense)
Discuss your assigned situation for 5 minutes
and report back your suggestions and tips.
Tips on Tricky Situations:
 Toddlers
and babies – keep small toys on
hand, interview in a room without
“attractive nuisances,” cut short if needed
 3rd parties: Explain that bring only client
in as an office policy. Maintains privilege.
May bring 3rd part in separately if witness.
 Courthouse: Know/ ask about private
spaces to interview. Avoid if possible.
Tips on Tricky Situations:
Clients with unreasonable expectations: Be
calm, factual and clear with client if her goal
is unreasonable - e.g., denying all contact
with children not supported by law, you will
lose a Fair Hearing on this, not enough
lawyers for direct rep for all.
Belligerent clients: Seek back up if in person,
use safety plans if needed, ask to call back
when can talk calmly. Office trainings on
dealing with difficult clients can be helpful.
Tips on Tricky Situations:
 Phone
Interviews: Not preferred if
evaluating client for direct rep – more
appropriate for brief advice cases.
However, can be necessary evil if, e.g. a
referred Protective Order case with short
notice. For DV cases, ensure that you
have a safe number to call. Ask client to
go somewhere more private if 3rd parties
or kids audible in background and
especially if trying to take part in call.
Any Questions?
Presenter Contact information:
Elizabeth Wehner
Legal Aid of West Virginia
[email protected]
(304) 343-3013, x2134

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