A session by Mr Matthew Burkaa Esq.
Held on Tuesday, 27th of February 2018.
Reported by Director of Research II, Amirah Rufai.
1. Your Relationship With The Client
One of the first things you learn as a legal practitioner is your relationship with your clients. You must understand that Nigerian clients are different from clients from other countries. Some Nigerian clients claim to know enough, and may hide some truths. Hence, you find yourself discovering new facts as the engagement continues.
Lawyers must recognize the variations in a lawyer-client relationship. Where a lawyer is dealing with a new client, client counselling marks the commencement of the lawyer’s relationship with the client. Where the lawyer is dealing with a retained client, client counselling marks the commencement of a legal scenario. In other words, there is always a commencement.
To understand a client’s case, you must ask questions and determine what the client really wants – only then can you be in a position to counsel. Where a lawyer does not understand the facts, he cannot apply the law. At this point, the client is king because he is the master of the facts. Hence, you must ask as many questions as possible.
3. Never Assume That You Know Your Client’s Case
Let the client speak, and listen carefully. Understand that you know nothing of the facts, and it is what the client tells you that you rely on.
4. Know When And How To Ask Questions
When your client tells you something that is too fantastic for example, you should know that something is wrong and ask questions accordingly. Know the facts to plead, and the ones not to plead.
*If you don’t know enough of the facts, you’ll be embarrassed, and when this happens the client will deny you.
5. Believe Your Client’s Story
Ethically, you must believe what your client tells you, unless it is something that is completely unbelievable. No matter your situation, no matter how bad, there is always a legal principle you can hang on to. Good or bad, you have a case under the law.
6. Never Tell A Lie
If your client doesn’t mislead you, and as a lawyer you tell a lie, you put your wig and gown on the line. As a lawyer, you must at all times take steps to protect yourself. No client is worth dying for, so you must never lie to protect your client. This is why the counselling session is important. Ensure you get the raw fact as it is. Go for the truth, but remember that the truth to a lawyer may not be the truth to a layman.
7. The Art of Silence
A lawyer must be sensitive enough to know when to be silent and when to interfere. Try to empathise with the client, but understand that this doesn’t mean you should support the client. Still, most clients would want to flow with a lawyer who understands and feels their pain.