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Lawyers of San Diego is a specialty bar association committed to advancing the status of women in the law and society. We use this space to share articles written about Lawyers Club events and programs and items of interest to our members which are relevant to our mission. The opinions outlined in content published on the Lawyers Club of San Diego blog are those of the authors and not of Lawyers Club. All members are encouraged to participate respectfully in discussions regarding the topics posted on the blog. Guest writers are welcome.

 

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Inviting the outsider in | Empathy helps you help your clients

Posted By Guest Blogger Christy Heiskala , Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2018

My experience working with lawyers and being a member of the Lawyers Club of San Diego entirely changed my perspective from the experience I had as a client. I parented my child through the experience of being a victim of crime in a criminal case, a plaintiff in a civil trial, and a fighter through two subsequent appeals. Over a period of eight years, I spent many hours talking to the Deputy District Attorney, talking to my attorneys, being deposed by defense attorneys, and sitting in the court room. Even though I had top-notch attorneys and mostly positive outcomes, I felt lost throughout the entire process. I have been a victim advocate for clients in both civil and criminal cases for three years now and want to share with lawyers what it feels like from a client’s perspective.

 

Clients are intimidated by you.

 
No matter how kind you are, clients are scared of you. They won’t tell you everything up front due to trauma, lack of trust, and fear of sounding stupid. People seek help from attorneys when they feel they have been wronged and their trust has been broken. Their nervous system is stuck in fight, flight, or freeze mode and they may not be thinking clearly. Help your client relax and feel more comfortable with you by letting them speak without interrupting and leave a long pause before responding. Provide helpful resources and conduct grounding exercises that will further help them.

 

Clients feel like outsiders.

 
Legalese is the equivalent of a foreign language to people outside the legal world. Every word feels like drinking from a firehose. Clients may not keep up and will be too embarrassed to say they don’t understand. Not asking for help in a foreign country can lead to costly mistakes, and the same can apply to your clients because this area is foreign to them. They may have never stepped foot into a law office or court room before, except perhaps for a day of jury duty. Your clients may have never answered interrogatories or been deposed. This adds up to a client who feels lost and unsure of themselves and can lead to misunderstandings.
You can help by losing the formalities when possible. Meeting rooms should be warm and inviting. Save the suit for court. Talk slower and lose the legalese. Instruct them about the process in a manner you would give directions to a visitor without a map.


To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

 
You do this work daily and might be working on twenty cases at a time; but (hopefully), this is your client’s one and only case. Clients do not realize how long the process takes, how much time lapses in between the different stages of litigation, and how much work is expected of them. When court dates change, that is a normal workday for you—but your client has been planning their entire life around the court date (arranging childcare, making travel arrangements, and requesting days off work in advance). Inevitable court changes can be financially burdensome and make a client become uncooperative.


As the best lawyers know, little actions can go a long way. Help clients feel validated by being mindful not to rush them off the phone or use template correspondence. Check in with them often and offer to revisit how the process works and what the next steps will be. Make sure they know in advance that court dates can change at the last minute, acknowledge how much of an inconvenience it may be, and ask how you can help.

Christy Heiskala is co-chair of San Diego Lawyers Club’s Human Trafficking Collaborative Community Sub-Committee, she provides civil litigation victim support, and volunteers for the Center for Community Solutions as a SART advocate.

 

Tags:  client  client management  client perspective  client treatment  intimidation  lawyering  mindfulness  victim advocacy 

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Life Imitates Law: "Lessons from 'Miss You Like Hell'”

Posted By Bobbi-Jo Dobush , Thursday, December 1, 2016
Updated: Thursday, December 1, 2016

Life Imitates Law: "Lessons from 'Miss You Like Hell'"

 

Stepping out into the newly crisp fall air, I declared, "I’ve found my new favorite thing." I issued this proclamation in response to my husband asking how I liked the play, “Miss You Like Hell,” which we had just seen. He laughed at my response, clarifying, "You mean your new favorite play, or favorite musical?" "No," I responded, "Favorite thing . . . as in, in general." The characters, music, set design—they are all transcendent.

 

But this is not a theater review. Instead, I was inspired by one scene where an attorney asks her client to make a request of a family member. You should definitely go see “Miss You Like Hell,” so I'll only say that the client agonizes over the idea of asking a loved one to vouch for her in the context of a legal proceeding. The scene got me thinking about the things attorneys ask of our clients, especially when the matter is deeply personal, and more importantly, how we ask for those things. (Full disclosure: I am an environmental attorney, but I encounter such situations in my pro bono immigration practice).

 

We may not realize when certain “asks” that seem routine implicate complicated interpersonal relationships. It is easy to be empathetic when asking a client to deliver on bureaucratically or logistically complicated requests, such as obtaining original documents from a country of origin a client has not set foot in for a decade, or certification from an agency that will require standing in line for half a workday. In making such requests, I have been prepared to provide support, talk through challenges and potential solutions, and research or brainstorm alternatives if necessary.

 

“Miss You Like Hell” made me realize I have been less readily empathetic in asking clients to make personal requests, whether for assistance in obtaining documents, writing letters, or testifying. I've always been sensitive to potentially difficult or uncomfortable aspects of each client's particular situation. For instance, it's obvious that the last way a survivor of violence wants to obtain original documents is by contacting her or his abuser. Beyond that, I'd do well to remember that no matter how intimately I, in the role of attorney, have come to know one aspect of a client's situation, it is but a tiny sliver of that person's complex personal life.

 

Instead of asking clients to make personal requests as an afterthought or part of a checklist, I will now be asking clients, "Who could potentially provide a letter of reference?” and, “Is there any reason asking that person would be complicated for you?" I will also be prepared to do some brainstorming if alternative sources are needed. Our clients, like everyone else we know, have rich and varied personal relationships independent of their legal issues and the potential solutions that we, as attorneys, can provide for them. My personal goal is to be more respectful of those relationships.

 

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“Miss You Like Hell" is playing through December 4th at the La Jolla Playhouse. 

 

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This blog posted was authored by Bobbi-Jo Dobush who believes that sharing our diverse passions—for example the arts, the ocean, or salsa (the condiment)—can positively influence our practices. 

Tags:  Art  client  Client Service  LCB  Life Imitates Law  Local Happenings  Theater 

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5/9/2019
Save the Date! LC Annual Dinner

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