Client Skills: Advice From A Private Client Solicitor
Previously a Criminal lawyer, and having run a crown court, and managed a London office, Simon Landivar is now working as an experienced solicitor at Rix & Kay LLP, now specialising in private client work. This week the University was fortunate enough to have him in to give a talk to students about client interviewing skills, which included his best tips and advice which he has gained over his legal career.
If you look at his personal profile, you will see that Simon’s skills lie in ‘investing time and effort to listen to his client’s circumstances and requirements, in order to offer pragmatic and tailored advice’. By following this approach, he can consider all options before guiding his clients carefully through what can often be a very difficult process; so that they fully understand the best possible course of action to take.
As a result, Simon placed strong emphasis on the importance of maintaining a good client relationship, and of making a good impression when you first meet prospective clients. This has become particularly relevant in recent years as due to commoditisation, the supply of legal services has outstripped the demand (See The Law Society’s article: ‘The Commoditisation of Law Continues‘), and clients can easily go to another firm if they think they can get a better offer elsewhere.
Fortunately for us, Simon provided us with his tried and tested method for a successful client interview:
- Give a good introduction: Explain who you are, why you are there, your experience, and why you are good for this case.
e.g. ‘Hello Mrs. Squish, I am Steve Noodles, Senior Partner at Taco Solicitors. I have a lot of experience in Property Law, especially with cases such as yours involving……’
- Set out why you are there: Create a structure, what you want to accomplish today, and what information you need when talking to the client.
e.g. ‘Tell me about it in detail…’ ‘Tell me chronologically what happened…’
- Let the client tell their story: Listen – it may be necessary to help guide your client’s story, but understand that they may also be very emotional, they may want to vent their feelings, concerns, issues, and frustration. Let them.
- Illicit more detail: Open questions for a broader understanding or summary, closed questions to gain more detail. Even the smallest most insignificant point to them, could be the detail that wins you the case in law.
- Tailor what they have told you to the law: Comb through what is relevant and what is not, apply it to the law, and also consider what defences, if any, may be available to them. (See Guide For Answering Problem Style Law Questions for help in exams and essays)
- Summarise: Set out the law – after all it is what you are there for. Point out any ideas or problems you may have, discuss their options, advise what they should do next. In many cases it may be useful to let the client come to their own conclusion.
What should you do with particularly emotional clients?
Let them vent – this could be the most difficult situation they will ever have to face. What would you do if this was your friend? Be empathetic to their situation, without pushing the boundaries of professionalism.
i.e. giving your client a big hug may not be the best thing to do, but saying how you ‘understand how hard this must be for them‘ still shows that you care.
In the context of Simon’s experience of criminal defence work, he was also able to give us a breakdown of how his approach with clients can change depending on the different stages of the legal process. This is because in most circumstances a client will not have the same solicitor throughout their legal process, and as a lawyer, knowing the different expectations a client may have at these stages will raise your client’s confidence in your suitability to represent and advise them.
Pre-charge and Initial Contact
Here it is important to be yourself and have a genuine interest in what they have to say, if a client likes you they will trust you and want to carry on working with you in the future. And remember: if you can tell if someone is being dishonest or insincere with you, a client can tell if you are acting in this way to them – be genuine.
At the Police Station
It is also important to not judge your client, you may not have the full facts of the case before you meet them, and must give them the opportunity to tell you their story – do not make assumptions, and be honest when giving them your thoughts and advice.
At Court and after they have been charged
Here a client may have very different expectations to you, and you must be honest with them when explaining their options and the key issues you have found. Here Simon was very honest about his experiences in court, especially his time as a junior Barrister – you won’t always get it right straight away, and this is something that will come with practice, and can be only learnt through doing.
In summary, Simon also gave us four key points to remember which should apply to every client no matter what the scenario:
- Know the Law
- Know the Case
- Know your Client
- Be yourself
It was a very informative and honest talk from an experienced lawyer, and we are grateful for him taking the time to come to our university to share all his great advice!
For more information about this subject, here are a selection of sources you can visit: