Hey! Are you listening to me?
Question: when taking instructions from clients, do lawyers really bother to listen to them properly? Do lawyers think to themselves, "I've heard this all before. I know what the problem is. She doesn't need to go on about it". Having listened to one or two sentences from the client, do lawyers hastily construct a picture in their own mind of what the problem is and then try to shut down the client simply to save time?
To a lawyer ‘time is money’, and anything that can be done to reduce the amount of time and effort invested in a client's problem (whilst still billing the maximum permitted) will be eagerly pursued by that lawyer. Having said that, it is no sin for a lawyer to be both efficient and effective (admirable traits), but it must not be at the client's expense. Mind reading/second guessing and corner cutting must not be confused with efficiency and effectiveness.
Regrettably, a client with a problem is often unable to coherently express the nature of the problem, which is why they come to lawyers with the problem in the first place. Lawyers often find it frustrating that a client is unable to articulate their problem in a quick-fire, coherent fashion. However, it is dangerous for a lawyer to listen to the client for the briefest of time and then jump to conclusions without hearing the full story first. It is this presumptive attitude in a lawyer that has the potential to result in inadequate/inaccurate instructions being relayed, with the added effect of potentially alienating the client from the lawyer, should the client feel they have not been listened to. Apart from that, it is downright rude.
Whilst instructions provided by clients to lawyers can sometimes be irrelevant, exaggerated or unnecessarily emotive, it is often therapeutic for the client to vent her spleen to her lawyer. Does it really matter that a lawyer dons their psychologist’s hat for a short time? Is it that inconvenient for the lawyer to provide emotional/psychological comfort for a short time, rather than proffer legal advice? There is no denying lawyers are ruled by the clock and six minute billing intervals are the accepted norm. However, simply because a lawyer sits back and politely listens to a client for a full 6 minute interval without interrupting does not necessarily mean the lawyer’s bonus for that year is going to bottom out as a result. A lot can be said by an aggrieved client in 6 minutes and one 6 minute interval with a psychologist's hat on is a pittance (and surely a good investment) when considering the larger picture. The slight inconvenience of being politely attentive to the client is, potentially, far outweighed by the client’s appreciation, and the loyalty that naturally follows.
Solicitor/client conduct is governed by the “Rules of Professional Conduct for Barristers and Solicitors” (7th Ed). There is no rule that provides a solicitor must ‘pay common courtesies’ to a client, such as attentive listening. The closest the Rules come to promoting common courtesies is contained in Appendix 1 of the Rules (page 84) where it is recorded, "lawyers shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity of their profession”, a catchall phrase that is intended to prevent all manner of misdemeanours and indiscretions - but does it stretch to inattentiveness to a client? Probably not. It is, instead, an ingrained respect and concern for humanity that guarantees a lawyer’s attentiveness to a client's problem. It's like being able to see into the future: you either have it, or you don't.