When providing legal representation to children, one of the first skills to master is how to successfully interview your young client.
In an article featured in the April/May edition of GP Solo magazine, “Interviewing Your Child Client,” child welfare lawyer Cathy Krebs, who also serves as the manager of the ABA Section of Litigation Children’s Rights Litigation Committee, shows how to get the best out of the youth you represent.
The key to successful representation is respect, says Krebs, offering several ways to demonstrate it:
Build trust – Trust is vital to a successful lawyer-client relationship and developing it starts with your first meeting. Client meetings should take place in a quiet place where the child feels safe. And be mindful of body language, such as crossed arms, which may be taken as a sign of disapproval, as well as where you sit in relation to your client. “Across a table can feel like an interrogation,” notes Krebs, suggesting that sitting next to them “can feel like you are working together and are literally on the same side.” Another tip on trust building: Never make a promise you cannot keep.
Communicate clearly – “As lawyers, we often feel that we are speaking simply even when we are not,” Krebs warns. “Break down your points into simple, understandable language, use simple sentence structures and avoid negatives, as they can be confusing.” School records and psychological evaluations are among the tools that can help you assess a child’s developmental level and cognitive function, as disability and trauma can impact understanding. Also, Krebs says, “Most children do not want to admit a lack of understanding to an adult. So, rather than ask the child to let you know if he does not understand something, ask him to repeat back to you the really important points you are trying to make.
Listen – Practice active listening and stay engaged. “Be sure that you are not so much focused on the points you need to discuss that you miss an opportunity to hear what your client [needs to talk about],” says Krebs, noting that such conversations may reveal additional advocacy topics that need to be addressed, such as special education needs or sibling visits.
For more practical tips on successfully interviewing child clients, read the full article here.
GP Solo magazine is a publication of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.