Interviewing our child clients is foundational to legal representation, but it can be challenging. Below are some quick tips to help you improve this essential skill.
- Build a trusting relationship: Be friendly, empathetic, honest, and never make a promise that you cannot keep. Have multiple client meetings to help build the relationship.
- Use clear language: Avoid negatives, use simple sentence structure and language, avoid sarcasm, use the present tense, ask your client to use her own words to repeat what you just said, and be clear about your role.
- Explain what is happening in your client’s case: Often the lawyer can be the best source of information for their client about what is going on in a case. Be sure to explain the court process, the roles of others within the court system, the timing of a case, and the various possible outcomes in your client’s particular case.
- Be respectful: Listen actively, notice non-verbal communication, and take your cues from your client whether it is paying attention to the language he uses or not forcing eye contact if it makes him uncomfortable. Also ask permission to take notes and explain why notes might be important. Importantly, understand that what you feel is most important might not be most important to your client.
- Pay attention to what matters to your client: Ask her who are the important people in her life. Who would she call if she got into trouble? What does she need? You should avoid assumptions. Listen actively so that you are better able to identify what is most important to your client and why. Often our clients are the best source of information about their cases and can identify what they need; we just need to listen.
If you want to learn more, check out the following video, notes, and audio programs:
- Interviewing the Child Client—See why this award winning video narrated by the actress Amy Breneman has been viewed almost 90,000 times and counting
- Interviewing the Child Client Video Teaching Notes
- Counseling Children and Youth in Times of Crisis: Tips to Achieve Success and Avoid Pitfalls—Found towards bottom of the page
- Interviewing and Counseling a Child Client—Found towards bottom of the page