The first interview with injured clients
19th Jan 2017
I’ve interviewed thousands of injured clients, some with minor injuries, and others with the worst injuries imaginable. Every interview is different.
A while ago my marketing co-ordinator referred me to a great LinkedIn article written aptly by the ‘The Happy Family Lawyer’, Clarissa Rayward. It details her first meetings with individuals facing family law proceedings.
It got me thinking about the first interview process for our clients – who have sustained a personal injury – which goes a little something like this:
- A new client approaches the firm.
- The new client speaks directly to a lawyer.
- That same lawyer then arranges to see the client, and fingers crossed, that client agrees that my lawyer and our firm is who they want to help them with their claim.
In her article, Clarissa Rayward refers to another lawyer's description of the first interview as being ‘just like a first date’.
I’ve had the odd first date and on reflection, there are some similarities.
No matter how prepared we are as a professional, or how much information we have from our initial discussions, the first interview (as Forrest Gump would say) is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.
Likewise for the injured client; no matter what research they’ve done, or how many people they’ve spoken to about the process, they just don’t know what the lawyer is going to be like.
In fact, that first meeting is more like a blind first date!
I imagine that most lawyers learned little about interviewing until they found themselves in a room with their first real client.
It is the most critical client meeting you can have, because it can determine the relationship upon which every aspect of your future dealings are built. The aim is for the client to feel confidence and trust in you.
In my view, you can achieve this aim by following these three steps:
- Listen, listen, and listen some more.
- Based upon what you’ve heard, ask the right questions.
- Based upon the answers, provide the client with information in a way that they understand, that provides clear answers.
At the first step, try NOT to be a lawyer. Forget that there is a process that you want to go through and a series of questions you need to ask.
Let the client tell you their story. Help them feel understood, rather than interrogated.
It’s surprisingly easy to forget that not every client is looking for the hard and fast legal answers. They could be in that room for any number of reasons. Perhaps this is the first time that they have ever spoken with a lawyer.
Once you’ve listened, understood, and respected the needs of the client, you are well positioned to ask the right questions – and will likely get more detailed, helpful answers.
Having completed steps 1 and 2, as a lawyer you are well equipped to provide step 3. By doing it in this order you’ll likely be giving the client what they need and want, and not simply getting what you, the lawyer, need and want.
If you communicate with those factors in mind, it will go a long way to securing the goals I have set out above.
I have often completed an initial interview with a client and walked out with scarcely a note written on my notepad, but having created a relationship, built confidence, trust, and having broken down the barriers that inevitably exist between a new client and their lawyer.
Faran Gouldson is the sole director of Gouldson Legal, a Queensland personal injury plaintiff litigation firm which was established in 1998. He has over 20 years’ experience in Queensland personal injury law and understands the challenges that clients face when approaching compensation claims. Faran has worked with thousands of injured Queenslanders and now specialises predominantly in especially complex and catastrophic claims.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).