Giving the Client a Voice in the Process

IMG_0017Yesterday, I took a drive out to the hinterlands to visit a habeas corpus client. I met up with a law school intern for the visit. During the time we spend together, the client what to know what he could do to assist in his case.

Over the course of my career, my thinking has evolved on the subject of clients and their desire to assist in their case. There’s a meme circulating among colleagues that says “don’t confuse your Google search for my law degree.” 10 years ago, I would have worn the t-shirt.

Then I try to imagine what it would be like to have no control over anything in my life and no freedom. I would want some input in my case. I spoke to a colleague who is an appellate lawyer in an indigent defense agency. She gives the clients a copy of their transcript upon request and encourages input. She has never experienced a downside with the practice. Never. Of course, at the end of the day, the lawyer chooses the issues. And knowing which issues to include is a big part of the art and science of law. But it doesn’t help the relationship to discourage the client from having a voice. I found an excellent law review article on the topic of how to allocate the decision making between the attorney and the client. The article suggests that a collaborative model focused on the client works best. In this model, their lawyer works to inform the client about options and empowers the client’s ability to choose as much as possible, having had the benefit of the lawyer’s experience and wise counsel.

So, here is what I told my client. I said to get in the law library every chance he could find. And I told him that if he finds anything that he thinks might be helpful to write me. He was happy with this advice. I think it made him feel like he had a voice in his fate. And who knows, sometimes clients come up with good ideas if we give them a chance.

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