University Institute of Legal Studies (UILS) Chandigarh, held its 1st National Client Counseling Competition 2011. Mithila Bhati from Army Institute of Law (AIL), Mohali who was a part of the winning team shares her experiences with us. Her team mate for this competition was Phaguni Lal.
Q: So what exactly happens inside the chamber in a Client Counseling Competition?
A: Client counseling, as the name suggests, is all about making your client feel that you are as concerned about his problem as he is. When the client enters your chamber, he talks about his problem and lays bare all that he has gone through.
Since he is already aggrieved, the lawyer’s first step is to calm him down. Opt for a conversational style while talking to or interrogating your client. Being too professional might not be taken very well by both the client and the judges.
Once the client feels comfortable with you, start inquiring about his problem and try to determine what remedy he seeks. Make him trust you. The confidence-building exercise will get you bonus points.
Even though his problem might sound complicated, give him some ray of hope and assure him that his problem will be solved and that you are willing to help him to the best of your abilities.
Once you’ve heard his side of the story, analyze the situation, apply the law in question and come up with a solution which fits your client’s problem.
Adopt a normal conversational style of talking – be a human first and then a lawyer.
Be gradual in introducing the law to your client – don’t bombard him with your legal knowledge.
Explain legal concepts to your client in simple layman language – excessive legal jargon is to be avoided.
Be slow and steady – winning the client’s trust is the first key to a successful client counseling session.
Never guarantee the effectiveness of a suggested solution – false promises are dangerous and might disappoint the judges.
Q: What do the judges look for in a Client Counseling Competition?
A: The judges are observing and evaluating you on how well you are able to counsel your client and offer him a practical solution to his problem. Judges are not there to test how well you know the law but how well you can explain it to your client. So flaunting your legal know-how is a big no.
The main essence of the competition is to promote a healthy lawyer-client relationship. Judges also observe the comfort level which you’ve developed with the client and whether the client would be willing to come back to you for further help.
Main criteria for judging:
Ability to explain the law in simple language.
Comfort level between the lawyer and client.
Satisfaction of the client – whether your solution or approach to his problem would make him come to you again.
Q: In a Client Counseling Competition what are the problem areas faced by participants?
A: Your performance majorly depends on the client that you are provided. His responses and reactions might make or break your show. Also, the client’s problem is another important factor.
Negotiating the fee with your client – has to be done very carefully keeping in mind his/her occupation and financial status.
The competition is on-the-spot. There are no propositions declared and one can never know what the client’s problem would be exactly like. A general theme on which problems would be based might be available though.
One doesn’t know how the other teams have performed as they are not pitted against each other.
Q: Any other tips for people participating in client counseling competitions?
Be well-versed with the laws with which you’ll be dealing.
Have good knowledge of the remedy or the grievance redressal system under that law. The client does not need your knowledge of law but instead needs a solution to his problem. So if you are suggesting a remedy, make sure you have legal backing.
Never hint at anything which seems like champarty – it would be hara kiri if you ask your client to share the monetary benefits which he might derive if he wins the case. Do not strike ‘business’ deals. Be a lawyer with high ethics. Offer him pro bono services if he does not seem to be in a very good financial position.
Promise only what you can deliver. Do not sound over confident or complacent. A lawyer can never provide 100% guarantee with his solution.
Protik Da adds a warning
“Even though his problem might sound complicated, give him some ray of hope and assure him that his problem will be solved” and “Never guarantee the effectiveness of a suggested solution – false promises are dangerous and might disappoint the judges” are mutually contradictory.
People, that is not the way counsel hold conferences with their clients. In fact, empathizing with the client goes against the basic tenet of our profession – being dispassionate. The client has problems, obviously that is why he has come to a lawyer.
A good lawyer lets the client talk, and when the client tires, ask questions that he needs answers to so that he can give proper advice, ask for the documents and call it straight: does the client have a case that is likely to succeed or not; if not, then what is the remedy that the client is likely to get. That is all.
If a competition really threw up the tenets posted here then I am afraid those who judged the competition are more in the “client servicing” industry than the law that we practise and have been practising for the last 150 years and more.
Sorry to be blunt, ladies and gentlemen but the recipe given in the article is, in my humble opinion, the easiest way to win clients for your “firm” and then face massive malpractice litigation or in India, “professional misconduct” litigation.
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