WHAT CLIENTS WANT AND WHAT LAWYERS AND PARALEGALS NEED TO KNOW
For a long time I was a practicing lawyer, first in the North Carolina’s Attorney General’s office, then the United States Attorney’s office, then private practice, in a small firm, as a sole practitioner, and then in a very large law firm. During all those twenty plus years, I thought I knew how to meet and talk with clients, how to take care of them, and represent them. Perhaps I did in part, but nothing could have taught me what I learned when I became a client myself, in desperate need of excellent representation with the stakes very high.
· I remember what I wanted most was hope, the feeling I could get through whatever was coming my way. I did not require or ask for specific guarantees, just the hope and belief I could survive.
· Jean Spaulding, my doctor, told me she was on my side and wanted to help me. I have never forgotten those words. She also told me she would not tell anyone what I said to her unless I gave her permission. It was the beginning of trust.
· I had trouble telling everyone all they needed to know. I eventually did that but it took time. What I needed from my lawyers was patience and understanding.
· I went through the stages of grief – denial, anger, fear and finally acceptance. I wish I had known these feelings are what lots of clients go through…every day.
· I wanted to meet my lawyers and doctor in familiar and warm settings. This made me relax. I did not like sterile conference rooms.
· I wanted my lawyers and doctor to be really into me. I wanted them to treat me as though I was the most important client they had.
· I wanted everyone to call me back or take my calls if they could. I did not want to be left hanging…if so, I could rapidly spiral downward in feelings of defeat.
· I did not want anyone to be judgmental of me. I knew they did not agree with all the mistakes I had made, but I wanted to look to the future, not the past.
· I liked it when on occasion, they could laugh with me.
· I wanted honesty from them but told with the care that I would be able to handle it and have a life afterwards.
· I wanted to be free to disagree with everyone, and they with me, and still be together. I wanted to be able to express my feelings and thoughts and know they would consider what I was saying.
· I remember wanting everyone to know how I felt as a client…vulnerable, scared, and unsure of anything, a loss of self-confidence and to handle me carefully.
· Always, I wanted them to, figuratively speaking, hold my hand until everything was done and tell me I would be all right.
· I wanted a feeling of unconditional support.
These are some, but not all, of the wishes I had as a client. They were and remain strongly felt. Not everyone agrees, but then not everyone has been a client. Lawyers and paralegals would be much happier with their responsibilities if they know and believe that it is an honor to help someone who needs it and is asking for them to do so, that the case belongs to the client, not the law firm, and finally to treat each client the way the lawyer or paralegal would like to be treated if the situation was otherwise.