A time and a place to better know your client

I often get the feeling that my potential family-law clients are looking for friends willing to listen to them talk about their family problems. Or maybe they need a therapist who will assist them in coping with the difficulties of a failed marriage or disintegrating familial relationships.

I generally keep my personal life private and do not share about personal struggles except with maybe a few close friends or family in whom I feel comfortable confiding. Sometimes I do not feel like talking about my problems because I am unable to deal with the emotions of rehashing negative life experiences.

As a friend, I am not the best person to talk to about problems because I rarely know what to say. Sometimes, I will offer to lend an ear when I see a friend or family member going through a tough time in the event they want to talk about it. People generally will politely decline and say they would rather not talk about it.

As an attorney, when I ask a potential family-law client to tell me a little bit about what is going on in their life, I am always surprised that people seem to have no inhibitions about full and complete disclosure about every detail of their current difficulties. If you let them, they could talk to you for hours on the phone. They are willing to disclose the most intimate details about their relationships to a complete stranger they have never met.

As my family-law practice has developed, I tend not to ask the open-ended questions during my initial consultation or phone screening because I may find myself being talked at for extended periods of time in the middle of a very busy work day. That’s why I have started asking more direct questions that help me gather the information I need in order to properly evaluate their case.

Many times, people do not generally know what information is legally pertinent or significant so they will tell you everything they think is important to them. I have found it very helpful to draft and use a standard script to assist me in keeping my initial conversations with potential clients uniform, brief and timely. However, when a person does become a client, I do allow more time to get to know my client better so I can better serve their needs and help them set and meet their goals.