THE opening of the new 2020/2021 law term took place last week against a backdrop where the legal profession faces unprecedented challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Times have certainly changed how we practice law, so I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to add my voice on a few hopefully helpful tips for the young and the aspiring lawyers.
Let’s start with what I consider to be a lawyer’s Overriding Objective: Always remember what a client pays you for. It’s to bring them peace of mind. Fashion every aspect of your practice around that concept and you will find decisions you have to make become so much clearer.
Tip No. 1 – You are not a parrot or a puppet.
A lawyer whose strategy is to persuade others by merely repeating the words of their client, is not an effective advocate. As a lawyer, it is your duty to analyse the factual makeup of the case and give your client a candid opinion on the merits. If your client is unwilling to accept your advice and how you wish to handle the case, let them find a new lawyer. You have your reputation and integrity to protect.
Tip No. 2 – A brilliant mentor once told me that a client who is smarter than you are, needs a new lawyer.
Attorneys rely on instructions from their clients to do their work. Let’s be real. There will be clients who choose not to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They’ll twist the facts and lie to manipulate you in order to get the result they desire. They’ll make a lot of pre-suppositions on what they think you need to know. It your job to get a full picture and analyse the facts as they are presented.
When something doesn’t make sense, call your client out on it (respectfully and professionally, of course). There are different shades of lies and untruths, and at the end of the day, you will have to make a judgment call. If, however, you determine a client is trying to outsmart you, you may just have to show them the door.
Tip No. 3 – Be accessible.
I’ve lost count how many times clients have complained to me about how hard it was to get in touch with their past lawyers. Remember the overriding objective of a lawyer … it’s to bring peace of mind. Being unreasonably inaccessible does not advance that objective, so it will not make your client happy.
Client’s do understand lawyers are busy people, but at the same time, they must feel that their work is important to you. My suggestion, as a general rule, is that at minimum, all communications with your client be it texts, phone calls, WhatsApp messages or emails be returned within 24 hours.
Tip No. 4 – Take the time to explain.
Once more, remember the overriding objective – to bring peace of mind. Your client feels more at ease when they understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Yes, its time consuming, and yes, you are the legal specialist. In the long run though, taking the time to explain builds a higher level of trust and confidence in you, and this advances the overriding objective.
Tip No. 5 – Always get your instructions in writing. I cannot underscore how important it is to not speak of anything your client says unless they put it in writing first. This tip is somewhat tied into Tip No. 2 .
Client’s do sometimes tell you certain things, yet when they are asked to put it in writing, that particular aspect of their story is missing… Do you know why? Chances are because it was not true. Getting written instructions can be tedious. But treat this tip to be as vital as breathing oxygen.
There are so much more tips I can share, and maybe I will in a next article. Until then, be safe Trinidad and Tobago!