Many lawsuits involve very personal, sensitive issues. They can include family law disputes, claims of discrimination and harassment in the workplace as well as personal injury claims. In many instances, an attorney needs to not only to be the zealous courtroom advocate but also a legal and emotional counselor. This task can be difficult work, especially if the lawsuit involves intimate details of the client’s life.
If sensitive, personal issues are part of the case, you will have to talk to the client about them in the most effective way possible. While you need to get facts from your client and their perspective on the matter it needs to be done in a way that’s empathetic, understanding and supportive.
In a Forbes article by Brent Gleeson, he discusses ways to converse very sensitive issues effectively. He gives some advice from Charles Lipcon who is a maritime attorney based in Miami. Examples of some of his clients include victims of rapes that occurred on cruise ships. These people suffered very traumatic, damaging experiences and Lipcon states that it is his job as their attorney to be sensitive to his clients because of the pain they have and are continuing to experience.
Lipcon suggests three steps to listening and communicating more effectively when dealing with sensitive issues.
- Show empathy and listen intently.
The person has exposed themselves to vulnerability by coming forward and asking for your help. It’s important to be empathetic and actively listen. Body language and eye contact express that you’re really interested in their story and care about them. Lean forward and be attentive.
- When it’s appropriate, ask questions to better understand the issue.
The person came forward to get help, and you need to gather the best data to make decisions and provide direction. Focus on listening and when the other person has stopped talking, come up with questions you need to ask to understand the situation better. Given that it’s a painful topic choose your questions wisely and don’t fruitlessly probe.
- Show loyalty and provide guidance.
Given the person’s pain and vulnerability be careful about the advice you give. He or she has come to you for guidance, advice, and help. It is important to show compassion and support but if you have bad news that the person needs to know, deliver it as best you can. Given the facts and law of the situation, and no matter how good the person is or how clear the wrong he or she has suffered, there may be limits on what an attorney may be able to do.
Handling these types of cases is not right for everyone. Many of us need improvement in our ability to empathize. It is possible for an attorney to get too emotionally involved in a case if they do not know how to cope with a highly-emotional case efficiently.
Effectively communicating with people who are coping with intimate issues can be very difficult and your approach will need to vary depending on the person and their situation. It’s a skill like any other that improves as your experience grows.