Clients may come to you for legal advice, for example in family law, medical negligence or a personal injury matters and the client may show strong emotions during the interview, such as crying, anger, sobbing…. a whole range of strong emotions. Are you uncomfortable with any emotion being shown by your client? Do you feel you don’t have the skills to manage emotions, therefore you simply advise the client to go off to get some therapy? Do you need a certain type of personality to deal with the level of emotion displayed by clients? The answer to these questions will be answered…and more!
What’s the Key?
To be able to manage emotions successfully (ours and others) requires that we, as humans, fully understand emotions. Its not dependant on a particular personality style or type. In order to understand emotions fully, some lawyers may need to further educate themselves about human emotions, responses, patterns when dealing with people faced with stressful, emotional situations, when lawyers are asked to provide advice to clients and to represent.
What Can Help?
- Understand the reality of the situation – two people may be at different stages of the process ie who initiated the separation, stages of separation, the stage and state of the client is when medically injured
- Ensure clients instructions are in writing and understood
- Its best to have advice confirmed by the client, which demonstrates their clear understanding of it
- At different stages of client/lawyer relationship and proceedings there may be varying emotional states exhibited by the client, which may be evidenced, for example, at final discussions/hearing, aspects of the settlement may appear to take on disproportionate significance to the client. Why? Manifestations of emotion.
6 Tips On How To Effectively Interview Emotional Clients:
The following skills can be developed with increased knowledge and practice, they include:
- Listen to the client: One of the doctors I worked for used to say to me “Louise, it’s the 90 second rule” I said “What does that mean?” He’d say “give them 90 seconds and they’ll run out of steam.” Not always as short as 90 seconds, however, people wll calm down or run out of steam after a short while, when they feel they are being listened to. They usually won’t want to discuss legal advice until they have released the emotions and gotten them “off their chest.”
- Empathise: which means to understand their feelings intellectually. As lawyers we wouldn’t want to sympathise but we can certainly empathise with their emotional concerns.
- Educate: a lawyer can educate the client about the stages of separation or the stages of their particular situation when coming to see you i.e. what a person feels is both normal and legitimate, they aren’t unique or alone.
- Question: Once the above steps have been completed, a lawyer can refocus the discussion from less emotional to more “legal” by appropriate questioning.
- Time out: Particularly if the other strategies haven’t assisted, a time out provides a ‘break in the chain” and both parties can come back with refocus and redirection. This allows the client free reign to have an outpouring of their emotions. Prior to ‘time out‘ a lawyer would put on the “lawyer empathiser” hat and remove the “lawyer adviser” hat, which may involve something as simple as moving a chair closer to the client and then moving it back to its original position when the interview resumes after a break.
- Referral: When emotions are high and unmanageable which results in the client being unable to give proper instructions and/or assimilate legal advice, then it would be appropriate to refer the client to a treating professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, counsellor etc).
As humans and lawyers, we wear many hats, not which of least is to assist and manage clients, when they are emotional during an interview with the lawyer. The above 6 tips will assist any lawyer, with any personality type, effectively assist an emotional client, who is able to provide instructions and take on board legal advice.
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- Build Know How and Confidence In IVF Matters
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