Interviewing is an art. It takes time and vigilance to become an excellent interviewer, and stay that way.
In Interviewing Skills for Legal Professionals, 2004, Doug Cochran points out that excellent interviews save time and money, ensure that a client’s legal matter progresses efficiently, prevents costly mistakes, and is an expression of professionalism.
Customer service underscores this textbook from the start. Cochrane recommends what he calls a “client centred” interview style. This starts even before the prospective client is in front of the paralegal or legal professional, through to closing-out the file.
“People who need legal advice are usually feeling ‘beat up’ in one way or another,” Cochrane notes. Earning a client’s trust is one way to ensure that no essential information is overlooked, and that the client has the most-effective advocacy available.
Organization & Content
Chapters are logically and consistently organized; each begins with a brief preview and ends with chapter questions and an exercise. Charts, personal-experience snippets and references to related information in other parts of the book ensure that the reader never feels lost.
Content includes preparing for the interview, structure and environment, questioning techniques and information about interviewing non-client witnesses.
A litigator and former instructor, Cochrane has one chapter called “The Art of Criticism.” It suggests ways to improve one’s ability both to criticize another’s interview technique, and to accept suggestions from others.
This text is written with law clerks and legal assistants in mind, so some information must be filtered for a sole or small paralegal practitioner. Readers will note, for instance, that they are not gathering information to hand-off to a lawyer and that offering advice is indeed part of a paralegal’s job. Taking the interview through to the advice and retainer stage aspect of client interviews, and adhering to the Rules requirements for licensees, is outside the book’s scope.
Clients Who Won’t Talk, or Talk Too Much
By presenting examples of difficult interview subjects, and suggestions for dealing with each, Cochran adds another layer of practicality to the subject. Hostile, withdrawn, talkative, distressed, evasive and incompetent clients can create ethical concerns for legal services providers.
The index is extensive and useful. Appendixes provide excellent checklists and handy reference charts, such as stages, tasks, obstacles and examples of ways to start open or closed questions. Dos and don’ts include reminders not to judge, promise, cut off, minimize concerns or argue with a client during the interview.
And, there’s even a crossword puzzle, based on terms in the book.
Visit the Emond Montgomery Publications site to learn more about “Interviewing Skills for Legal Professionals.”