How to give your clients difficult advice

Extremely intelligent, skilled advocates can be terribly uncomfortable in the counsellor’s role – unclear, insensitive or less than candid – according to Marjorie Corman Aaron in her book Client Science: Advice for Lawyers on Counseling Clients Through Bad News and Other Legal Realities. Clients are fully informed only when they understand and accept the legal realities and feel full trust and confidence in their lawyers’ advocacy, competence, motive and respect.

It is relatively easy to deliver good news to a client, but complications arise in delivering bad news, particularly in dealing with the client’s emotional reactions. The author suggests strategies for:

  • Adopting behaviour, tone and language suitable for conveying bad news
  • Prompting the client to raise the likelihood of bad news
  • Delivering the bad news in a sensitive but direct manner so that it is clearly understood
  • Avoiding the temptation to distort reality by softening the blow
  • Making sure your voice and body language do not send false signals
  • Retaining the client’s confidence in your competence and commitment
  • Avoiding statements which might threaten the client’s ego and identity
  • Avoiding placing blame on the client
  • Helping the client understand that risks are real, rather than just abstract
  • Persuading the client that legal reality does not necessarily equate with perceived fairness

The book provides plenty of insights into the difficulties of translating legal concepts into language which clients can understand; the emotional reactions which clients experience and how they increase the difficulty of gaining an objective comprehension of the legal realities; predictable ways in which people behave irrationally and how they can be addressed; and the use of non-verbal forms of expression in conveying advice accurately.

Any experienced legal practitioner will be able to confirm that some lawyers seem to be able to win and retain the confidence of clients, while others fail to do so, and the difference often has very little to do with legal ability. Some lawyers have natural abilities in relating to clients, whereas others do not. In my view this book provides a host of helpful insights into the reasons behind the difference, and gives very helpful advice on improving client relationship skills.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *