How do I talk to law clients?
Meeting and interviewing clients is an essential part of a lawyer's work. In this article, Legal English UK's Paul Clarke looks at ways to communicate successfully with clients in your second language.
Talking to clients in Legal English
Clients are the 'bread and butter' of any lawyer's working life. Whether you are a commercial lawyer meeting a CEO or an employment lawyer meeting a recently dismissed employee, there are specific linguistic styles that you should aim to follow.
As a competent lawyer, you will need to lead the meeting, ask relevant questions pertaining to the case, understand the client's problem, identify the legal issues, look at the next steps, and advise the client accordingly.
In a British law firm, there will typically be an introductory meeting where yourself and your client will go over the details of the case and you can explain the next steps. There will be also several meetings face-to-face or by telephone to discuss ongoing matters.
If you have an assistant, hopefully he or she has some idea of why the client is coming to see you. A tentative "May I ask what it is about?" should suffice. Reception staff might also be able to help you with this. If the client has a previous history with your firm, they will have a file which you can read through to get an idea of the client and the likely issue.
Most interviews in English-speaking countries will follow the same procedure early on. There will be some 'small talk', the client will be offered coffee or tea, and questions such as 'Did you find us easily?', 'Awful weather, isn't it?' or 'How is everything?' will be asked. This will last a good three or four minutes before the meeting begins properly.
"So, what can I do for you?" you ask your client, who responds that he wishes to "sue" one of his suppliers for various reasons. Allow the client to naturally develop on his ideas and show that you are listening with frequent short (yet formal) language: "I see" and "I understand." Ask relevant questions or tag questions to check your understanding: "So, let me see if I understand this correctly..." You can also demonstrate your comprehension through positive body language. Remember to take notes so that everything is clear in your mind. We have posted a short video down below which shows an example of a good client interview.
Legal English is considered too formal and not appropriate with a client unless you are explaining very specific terms. Keep to General English or Business English as much as possible and remember to treat the interview as a natural conversation. Open with a question such as "How can I help you?" and encourage the client to delve further by saying "Please tell me more about this."
If you are looking to advise the client, you might first wish to see what the client expects from a legal point of view and then you can frame your answer accordingly: "I will give you a brief overview of the legal options available" or "The best thing to do, from a legal standpoint, is this..." You can go into greater detail in the legal letter.
Concluding the Interview
You will agree the next steps with your client: "What I am going to do next is to draft a letter to the supplier" or "please send me the documents that you mentioned as soon as you find them, and then I can write to Mr X". Conclude the meeting by thanking the client for coming in to the office and promising to keep him updated as to what is happening: "Please don't hesitate to contact me if you can think of anything else."
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