Take time to listen to the client and their instructions.
Explain the importance of understanding.
Tell the client at the beginning of the interview that it is vital that you understand their situation properly and that you explain your advice to them clearly. Tell them that they need to let you know if you are not explaining it properly.
Speak more slowly than you do normally.
Unfamiliar words (like legal terms) are impossible to understand when you speak fast, and clients who don’t understand are unlikely to ask you questions.
Use plain English
If you use a legal term, explain what it is. Don’t overlook the obvious. For example, an ‘affidavit’ is ‘a piece of paper on which you write down things that you saw or heard. You then have to sign it and promise that it’s true.’ Make abstract things real. A ‘statement of liquidated claim’ is ‘a legal form that you fill in about money you say is owed to you which starts off your case in court’.
Be conscious about how long you speak for.
You should stop frequently and ask the client what they understood you to have said.
Be aware that many people will mask their lack of comprehension.
A client may try to mask their lack of comprehension by continually agreeing with you. Ask the client questions that allow you to assess their level of understanding of your advice. Use open-ended questions, not questions that suggest an answer.
Use language the client will understand and relate to.
This may be language that you never use, but may be really important to enable the client to trust you, and to indicate that you understand what they are saying to you.
Be aware of the length of the phone call
For many people with an intellectual disability, acquired brain injury or drug dependence, continuing to concentrate for extended periods without a break can be difficult. This could well result in the client not understanding your advice.
Don’t assume client literacy
Be sensitive about giving clients documents to sign or read. It is often good practice to read through documents with clients to ensure that they understand it. If a client needs to sign a document you need to know if they are literate. Rather than asking a client ‘Can you read and write’ ask ‘are you comfortable reading and writing.’
In some cases it may be extremely difficult to understand the client. You may need to spend more time with frequent breaks with some clients.
Don’t dismiss a client’s concerns
Listen to your client. Don’t dismiss their concerns because you think they have a mental illness.
Summarise the key points for the client
Give the client an outline of the key points to take away with them.
Manage client expectations
Don’t promise assistance unless a solicitor has confirmed. Be reasonable about time-frame of assistance. Most tasks we provide assistance with take time to resolve.
Do not tolerate aggressive or abusive behaviour
If a client becomes aggressive or abusive you are not required to just tolerate them. You can wish to flag with them, that if they continue with the behaviour, you may need to terminate the call. You may wish to put the client on hold and discuss with your supervisor if you are unsure. If they are a client, be sure to flag their behaviour on CLASS and in your file note.