If you’re expecting a paralegal career in the future, then it’s reasonable to also expect day-to-day client interviews. Just how important are interviewing skills in this kind of job? They’re valuable enough that many online paralegal programs offer an Interviewing and Legal Investigation course.
It’s a scenario seen too often: paralegals left on their own to interview a client because their supervising attorney has to be in court for an emergency hearing. Don’t panic. As a newbie, you can still handle that interview like a boss.
We present a few interviewing basics to help you prepare.
Set the tone.
The first few minutes of meeting the client will set the tone. If you start off on the wrong foot, it may be difficult to bounce back.
Standard etiquette applies: a warm greeting, a smile, maybe an offer of beverage. Beyond that, intuition comes into play. Feel your way into your client’s mood. If you think they’re relaxed or responsive enough, engage in small talk.
If they don’t seem open and ready for mindless chat, you can skip it and proceed to more important subjects, such as the expected amount of time the interview will take or what topics you need to discuss.
The key is confidence. You can only project confidence if you know what you’re doing. This requires thorough research of the law and facts related to the case and knowing them like the back of your hand.
Before the interview, you can prepare a list of questions or topics to discuss. Preparedness not only projects confidence, but also experience and ease, which will help your client relax and trust you.
Think about your questioning styles.
Many times, the success of the interview depends partly on how the questions are asked.
For open-minded questions, let the client give you a considerable amount of information. One example of open-ended question is “tell me why you’re here.” Open-ended questions are good for gaining a grasp of the overall case.
Close-ended questions can be answered with shorter responses, such as “what color was the light when you crossed the intersection?” Close-ended questions are good for gathering facts.
Just like questions, there are also two types of listening: passive listening, where you process the information internally; and active listening, where you repeat the client’s answers and clarify information.
Listening is imperative because it affirms to the client that their responses are heard and deemed important. Utilize both techniques so the client is assured that you are as invested and dedicated in the case as you claim to be.
Remember that you have a learning experience at your disposal. After the interview, evaluate the course of exchange and determine the effectiveness of your techniques. Using this assessment, strategize your next interview to make it even more productive.
Are you ready to take your paralegal career to the next level? Contact us today.