January 30, 2020 Practice Points

Interacting with Clients

Two easy ways to help you listen to your clients and help them tell you what you need to know.

By Leonard Wills

Listen. Sounds easy, right? But we all know sometimes listening to clients can be challenging. After all, sometimes clients—or potential clients—struggle to articulate what happened, cannot recall exactly what occurred, or cannot completely express their concerns because of traumatic experiences. The client speaks with you because she believes that, as her attorney, you will listen and provide legal strategies to handle her legal issues.

So, what can you do to help get the important information across? Ask clarifying questions.

As an attorney you want to clearly understand your client’s legal issues. Whether drafting a will or handling an employment discrimination case, asking clarifying questions leads to effective fact gathering, legal analysis, and legal strategy. As an attorney, active listening allows you to recognize follow-up questions to ask clients and/or the kind of evidence to seek. By listening, you gain an understanding of the pertinent facts and legal issue of your case. Then from that point, you can conduct legal research and formulate a strategy to win your case.

Examples of clarifying questions include but are not limited to:

  1. Is this what you said…?
  2. Did I hear you say…?
  3. Did I paraphrase what you said correctly?

Additionally, take good notes while listening to your client; however, do not let note taking distract you from listening. Some individuals prefer to use a pen and pad for note taking, and others a laptop. Taking good notes ensures that you understand the speaker and allows you to ask additional questions to clarify a statement or ask a good follow-up question. Additionally, organize your notes after the meeting, deposition, or hearing. What good are notes if they’re not organized and you cannot understand what you wrote?

But more than just fact gathering, listening, and asking clarifying questions allows you to connect with your client. Studies show that people have more positive interactions with one another when they believe people are listening to them.

Small details can matter significantly in the long run—maybe even make or break your case. After all, you do not want surprises to pop up along the way because you failed to listen.  

Leonard Wills is a presidential management fellow in Washington D.C. 


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