The Personal Injury Client:
Preparing the client with an understanding of what they need for their trial
As lawyers we have spent many years focused on learning the law, the rules of evidence, and the way to most effectively present a case to obtain the outcome sought by our clients, and really it is the outcome that we tell our clients they should be seeking. The clientss role in all of this is very periphery other than that they give us the bare bones of the story of their lives and what has happened to them that has led them to our offices in the first place. After that, we as lawyers, and not just lawyers but litigators, work our magic. We turn that story into something that fits within the parameters of the law so that compensation can be obtained for our client. We work our magic on the facts and the evidence so that it fits within a compelling theme that we have worked hours to develop. We focus group the facts so that we know exactly what will be the most compelling to the jury and we work with jury consultants to make sure that our clients are focusing on the right things, that we tell our clients story in a way that is compelling and motivating to the jury. We cull our witnesses so that they tell the story that our research and our expert trial consultant have told us will make our case a winning case. All of this is part of our craft, part of the work that we put into doing the very best possible in every case, part of the expertise that we bring to the table and in many ways the groundwork for the skill that we as trial lawyers are hired to provide for our clients. But, where does the client fit into this? After all, is it not their case? Their story? Their loss?
In this article I will be urging all of us as lawyers to take a step back from all the tools of the trade, all the learning, all the case law, all the legislation. Take a step back and start your cases where they really start, with the client. After all, it is the clients case, their loss, their life. Start there but dont stop there. Start there and take the time to really know the clients case, their story and their life before all of the other things that we as lawyers do get in the way and transform the case from the clients case to our case. Every step that we take in a case is a step towards ultimately enabling a jury to step into the shoes of our client and understand from their perspective what has happened. The only way to do that is to be completely client centred in our representation of clients. As a lawyer, it is a very hard thing to do, to hand over the control of the case to the client, to let the case be about what it is about for the client. I am not advocating forgetting about all that you have learned about theming a case, nor am I suggesting that all that you learn from focus groups and from jury consultants should not be used. I am suggesting spending more time prior to going down these roads getting a very good understanding of the client, who they are, what the case is about to them and what their story really is.
To really represent your clients well requires you to step into the shoes of the client and view their involvement with you through their eyes. For most of our clients, their first exposure to a lawyer will be when they meet you in your office. Prior to that all clients have been exposed to a myriad of images of what a lawyer does and what a trial will be like. When you first meet that client for the first time understand that the client is coming to you with very little real knowledge of what it is a lawyer does or what it is our legal system is about. For many of us, when we first meet that client we will have met hundreds of clients with similar stories in the past. The stories become so familiar that we can almost fill in the details ourselves without asking. We know that after the impact in a motor vehicle accident case the client will have felt momentarily shaken and stunned, that their pain will gradually increase over the course of the days following the accident, that they will attend the emergency room and be x-rayed and sent home with medications for pain, that they will be stay off work for a few days and that they will have increased pain when they return to work. We know that their pain will change the way that they spend time with their children and we know that their pain will slowly improve until a point where it plateaus. But is that the story? Is that how the accident has changed our clients lives? There is much more to it than that and only if we are able to approach each new client like they are telling a story that we have never before heard will you be able to provide the best possible representation for that client. The challenge for us as lawyers, especially those of us with a few more years experience doing this is to approach every case with a fresh eye and an open ear. What follows are some tips on how to approach each case in a way that will allow the clients whole story to be told, that will allow you to really hear what the case is about from the clients perspective, that will help you to approach the case in a way that is actually helpful to the client and not just a means to the ends that you are seeking and a method to be truly client centred in your representation.
To be continued
Legal disclaimer: The information provided on BCpersonalinjury.org is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered.
Article © copyright 2014 Rose Keith, BA JD RoseKeith.bc.ca published with permission by www.bcpersonalinjury.org Vancouver BC Canada
This page last updated: 2014.08.26
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