‘Let me tell you the facts of your case.’

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‘Let me tell you the facts of your case.’

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I remember the first time I heard my boss say that. I was a young and impressionable lad back then, which means to say I was easily impressed.

It was a meeting at our office. The client began his story with the background facts of his case, setting out the characters and events, and how they relate to each other.

He was a few minutes into his story when my boss interrupted him by saying, Okay, you can stop there. Now, let me tell you the facts of your case. My boss continued the client’s story, this happened, that happened and that’s how you got to this point, am I right?

The client was thoroughly impressed. He gazed at my boss in awe.

Yes. Yes. That is exactly correct. How did you what happened? the client asked.

Encik Haslam, when you see and do enough cases, you know how things go.

My boss rendered his legal advice to the client who remained in awe and respect when he left the office. After he left, I asked, How did you know the facts of his case?

He smiled. I didn’t know the facts of his case. But I have heard of cases like his before, many times. After you have been in practice and listened to many complaints and cases, you will notice certain factual patterns, certain similarity of events or people. Once you are familiar with them, you realize they lead only to certain paths.

I, of course, tried that when the opportunity to arose. I am one that usually likes to apply or mimic whatever I see like or admire of a lawyer and see if I can incorporate it into my playbook. There were moments where I just bombed it, of course. The client would look at me askance and think I was talking rubbish. But, there were occasions where I pulled it off with aplomb and had the client look at me in awe and profound respect. Those were real highs.

Despite that, I felt growingly uneasy about that approach to client interviewing. After the thrill of impressing a client that way got old, I could appreciate more clearly that what I was doing was more concerned with impressing and awing the client instead of properly attending to their matter with due care, attention and nuance.

There were times when I noticed that if I intimidated a client they would be less forthcoming about the facts. It also dawned on me that a client would sometimes hold back or suppress a fact because they felt it was improper or rude to contradict ‘my version’ of their events. Most importantly, I realized the more I talked the less I listened and the likelihood of me missing out something important was present.

Since that realization, the first thing I do now when I am with a client is to listen and ask questions. I try to find out what it is that is really bothering them. I listen hard and deep. I ask questions then I listen. I conduct an examination-in-chief. I listen to how a client responds to a question, how quickly they do, their emotional orientation when they do. I resist conclusions and stay open to the facts as much as possible.

I listen and listen and ask until I have got to the heart of the matter.

Because one thing I now understand is we humans tell stories but we do so in layers. The more trust, comfort and competence a client feels with us, the deeper down the layers we get. The only way to get deep is to listen; not talk, not tell, and certainly, not awe. A client needs someone accessible, interested in their matter and trustworthy to conduct their matter, not merely to impress them and not listen to them.

It’s often said of lawyers that they like the sound of their own voice. It’s often said of someone that if they argue well, talk pretty and a lot, they have a career in law. A lawyer standing up in court performing oral advocacy is the typical symbol of a lawyer in action.

Whilst I do not deny that there is much talk in law and about the law, what we as lawyers must not lose sight off is that a great deal of the the practice of law and our relationship lies in listening.

We must listen to our clients, our judges, our ethics and our call to action.

We should attune our ears to the sounds of injustice.

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