A big part of being an attorney in the role of a counselor is having to talk with people about their problems, and how to hopefully fix them. Often, these conversations involve personal issues that can be upsetting to all parties. In my practice areas, we often deal with the legal issues that arise upon the passing of a loved one, talk about what will happen when someone does pass away, or discuss the need to place a loved one in a nursing home or to change their lifestyle. These difficult conversations require tact and a certain bed-side manner that is not usually taught in law school.
When discussing difficult and personal topics it is critical to be transparent and honest. Do not tip-toe around an issue or let fear get in the way. Instead, simply bring the issue up in a sensitive and tactful way. As attorneys, our clients trust that we will treat them honestly and respectfully. If an issue has occurred due to a mistake made by you or your staff, deal with it head-on. Sometimes, we are the cause of the difficulty in a conversation, which should be dealt with completely and with integrity.
Meeting with a client that is going through a difficult time often leads to missing facts or information during the intake stage of a case. Keep this in mind, and probe carefully for the facts that you know will be needed. A grieving widow may not remember how her assets were titled, or why a claim has been filed against her. Help guide her to the answers you know are needed in order to help her resolve the issue. She will appreciate your guidance and the facts divulged will help serve her well, too.
A few other simple suggestions: have tissues and water handy in your office and conference room. Take the time to listen and pay attention to the body language and cues of the person talking to you. Be present in their important, emotional moment. If things get overwhelming for them, take a break and talk about something else.
Once learned, the interpersonal skills involved can open doors to additional opportunities to build rapport with your clients, referral sources and your colleagues. It’s invaluable, no matter what area of law you practice. Do any of our readers have any suggestions to help navigate difficult conversations?
Richard Adams is an associate with Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP in Baltimore.