October 22, 2019 Practice Points

Five Tips for Lawyers to Talk to Clients about Safety

A few points to keep in mind when you meet with your youth clients.

By Jacob B. Carmi

Safety for our child clients is critical, yet lawyers do not always make it a priority to regularly ask their clients if they are safe. Regardless of where our clients are placed—whether at home, kinship care, foster care, a group home, detention, or somewhere else—we must consistently ask our clients if they are safe. Safety is something that a lawyer with lawyer-client confidentiality is uniquely qualified to address. To help you talk to your clients about safety, here are five tips to keep in mind:

  1. Build a relationship and rapport with your client so that he or she trusts you enough to be truthful with you.
  2. Make sure that you are speaking to your client in an understandable way and using words that make sense to your client. 
  3. Talk to your client about safety when you are alone with them so that they can speak freely without feeling pressure from anyone.
  4. Talk to your client generally about safety. Where can your client be safe? Who helps your client feel safe?
  5. Be ready to act to ensure your client’s safety, if your client wants you to act. A lawyer with lawyer-client confidentiality is in a unique position to receive information from a client about safety and to then counsel the client about options that could ensure safety. Keep in mind that some options that you talk through might be ways to ensure safety while not revealing your client as the source of the information. Note that if the young person wants you to act and you do not, you will lose the trust of your client. Alternatively, if your client is not ready for you to act, you must keep the information confidential, within the guidelines of the ABA Model Rules.

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Jacob B. Carmi is with the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council in Seaside, Oregon.

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