She laughed. Her eyes were glowing. And although I could sense the pain beneath the surface, I could feel her hope and it fueled me. It reminded me of my job as a legal assistant.
I’m talking about one of the clients I got the privilege to meet last week on my first day as a legal intern. I definitely did not know how the client-intake interview would unfold, but if I could do it again, there are somethings I would focus on.
This post will highlight a few of these things.
First of all, as a person working in a service industry (yes, the law is service), you should be able to explain how you want the client to feel.
Law is largely about advocacy. So typically, legal clients are in need of support.
Often your client will walk in feeling the way the young woman below looks:
…and you know the end game may be that you come up with something that looks like this:
Yes. The paper trail. The pleadings, motions, and countless other documents that you have to
deal with create enthusiastically as a legal advocate. However–is this all your client needs right now? Really?
Do you think the girl in the picture above really wants a
sheet of stack of papers you’ve cooked up? Is this really all she needs when she walks through your door?
Sure, on some level. Namely the surface one.
But on a deeper level, she needs your understanding and compassion right now. Screw your documents.
So how does this come back to creating a vibe? Simple. Instead of immediately focusing on extracting information from your client, focus on meeting their immediate needs through your environment first.
When it comes to determining the vibe you want to create for your client, you must see your client as yourself, as human. In this way, you seek out ways to give the client what he needs on a deeper level. This makes all of the legal talk a lot easier later.
Here are a few of the adjectives I came up with as far as what I believe a client may need to feel on any given day:
Comfortable and Safe
Let’s say you agree with me on the above list. If these terms describe how we want the client to feel…how can we tangibly create this through the environment? The great thing about this is that there are no finite solutions. You know your clients, so you can modify this list to suit them.
Here are a few ideas:
- Provide beverages/snacks and offer them right at the start of the interview.-I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love being offered food and drinks. Even if I don’t want it, feels great to know it’s there. Nails salons across America get this. 😉
- Nod from time to time. Validate. Clients need this.– I don’t know many people who feel heard when the person he is confiding in has a blank expression. There is no need to be overtly emotional, but let’s try to be more human and less robot.
- Express condolences when appropriate.- Empathize with the situation the client is in. This helps to establish trust and your client will feel safe with you. Safety is needed for your client to share her story.
- Maintain neutral expression.– I know this seems contradictory to the aforementioned piece of advice, but you need to balance your reactions. What I mean by this is too much expression of consolation will make you(and inevitably, the client) feel more apt to dive into the client’s problem instead of being more focused on the solutions.
- Use the client’s name. EVERYONE loves to hear their name, especially when it is pronounced correctly. Shoot, I even like just seeing my name on a Starbucks cup. My name is Denia. (Sidenote: My first orthodontist wrote my name as “Duh-Knee-Ah” on my folder to help him remember how to say it. This was brilliant. Thanks to this, he was also my last orthodontist.) Believe it or not I am highly experienced in the arena of people mucking up my name. But guess what? I still like the fact that the person tried to say it. Experiment with saying your client’s name more often and see if you notice a difference.
- Have toys available in case children are in attendance. This may vary depending on your clientele, so you can analyze and see if this would be worth it. In family law cases, there will more than likely be instances in which small children will be in attendance. Anticipate their presence and help them feel welcome with stuffed animals and toys.
- Place a box of tissue on the table in case the client is sick, or if things get heavy. Contrary to our patriarchal society’s beliefs, crying is healthy. Readily available tissue may assist your client in being comfortable letting her more charged emotions fly out when they need to. More than likely he will have to recount situations that don’t bring out the brightest of emotions, and it is your job to support the client in getting this information out of their mind and into your client intake data sheet.
So there you have it. A lowly intern’s take on ways to inspire a vibe your client needs during the intake process. How do you help clients feel welcomed? Leave a comment below!