Solicitor’s Invaluable Secrets to Client Interviewing

At the University of Sussex students have been given the opportunity to take part in a client interviewing competition which is sponsored by the award winning law firm DMH Stallard LLP. Neil Farrow (a solicitor) and Hannah Joad (a trainee solicitor) from DMH came to Sussex to provide students with top tips for interviewing clients. They were both previous students at the University of Sussex. Neil studied English Literature and also completed his Graduate Diploma in law here and Hannah graduated from Sussex in 2014 and went on to complete the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law in Guildford in 2015.

Top Tips for Taking Part

Hannah and Neil began with an overview of why students should take part in client interviewing early on in their careers. They began by speaking about gaining experience to put on CVs which can help to secure work placements at firms. Neil went on to talk about how taking part in interviewing can provide students with a crucial skill set they will use throughout their lives. They said this can include trying to relate to your client’s situation, putting your client at ease and paying attention to the details of their story. Neil recommended that individuals should research soft skills and identify how to apply them in an interview, particularly as this is something which interviewers look when recruiting.

Building the Relationship

Making your client feel comfortable and able to discuss their situation is a crucial part of interviewing. As Neil explained, there are a number of techniques that can be used to ensure there is some sort of dialogue. He suggested that a technique often used is one adopted in police interviewing which involves asking questions and receiving answers. They said that certain techniques can help to ensure there is a structure to the interview as it is an automatic speech pattern for individuals to ask closed questions (you can only answer these with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no). They emphasised that one of the objectives of a client interview is encouraging a client to openMaking your client feel comfortable and able to discuss their situation is a crucial part of interviewing. As Neil explained, there are a number of techniques that can be used to ensure there is some sort of dialogue. He suggested that a technique often used is one adopted in police interviewing which involves asking questions and receiving answers. They said that certain techniques can help to ensure there is a structure to the interview as it is an automatic speech pattern for individuals to ask closed questions (you can only answer these with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no). They emphasised that one of the objectives of a client interview is encouraging a client to open up. Hannah explained that leading with open questions, for example what is the relationship like between you and…, enables the interviewer to gather and funnel down on information provided. She said that this also allows for more specific discussion as the client may be reluctant to provide specific details of a situation. They said that this will enable the interviewer to pick up any cues or clues regarding key details. They said that in the first initial meeting with the client, the client should do the majority of the speaking. Then once the client is more at ease, questions can be asked to extract the important information. Neil mentioned it is important to be mindful that an individual may be intimidated by coming to see a solicitor so it is important to make them feel relaxed.

Extracting the Important Information

One of the key pieces of advice for the competition they provided was to make sure individuals play an equal role in the scenario. Hannah discussed how she would often be the person sat in an interview taking notes and described how she would play an equally important role. This involved guaranteeing that she picked out the key information her client was providing. She would be the one absorbing the information provided while the person asking the questions would tailor follow up questions to his/her answers. Hannah and Neil explained how this allows for better quality extraction of information and ensures accuracy of advice and pricing.  Don’t be afraid to ask your questions to clarify key information.

Being Human vs Being a Robot

A question asked by one of the students was: What if a client will not stop talking? Hannah and Neil both recognised that this does sometimes happen. They spoke about letting the client run their course of what they want or feel a need to say. However, they also spoke about drawing the client back to the key issues. Hannah spoke about having a level of empathy, telling the client ‘oh I’m very sorry to hear about that but can I take you back to…’ showing that you are acknowledging what they are telling you. They also said that being polite was vital to enable an empathetic relationship between the client and the interviewer. Hannah went on to speak about how listening is a key part of interviewing as clients may not always give direct answers. People who are going to see solicitors are often experiencing high tensions and emotions and want to speak to someone who can show empathy.

Clients with Potential Capacity Issues

Neil said a number of steps would be taken to ensure the individual had the capacity to enter into an agreement or contract and it would also be vital to ensure the information in the contract or agreement was understood. They also mentioned the potential for assistance, someone may need to speak on behalf of the client for example. Another potential step put in place would be directing the client to a different area such as a clinic, for them to be able to get the best possible help that can be provided.

Effective Interview Advice

They discussed the need to strike a balance between being friendly and being professional. Hannah explained that although we are not interested in an individual’s private life, we do need to be alert to people’s feelings and emotions. When law firms look to recruit, they look for robust characters who do not put on a front. They look for friendly, approachable people able to demonstrate the key skills that are required. Neil mentioned that some clients may be resistant to sharing certain details and it is important to explain that you need all the necessary information to provide accurate advice and pricing.  Hannah and Neil recommended typing a follow-up note for the client and so they have something to refer back to in case any issues are left unaddressed. It is also important to get consent to liaise with people other than the client.  Hannah mentioned how an interview can sometimes feel like a conversation however, it is important to manage expectations and not to over-promise.

A Final Tip

Be yourself in an interview and not an idea of what you think an interviewer should be like. The students of Sussex would like to say a huge thank you to Hannah Joad and Neil Farrow for taking the time to come into the University and share some invaluable top tips of how conduct effective interviews. It was lovely to be able to hear about your individual developments since leaving Sussex University and was a pleasure to be able to gain some useful information that the students can apply throughout the competition.

Written by: Renee Ambler

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