Conducting Interviews: Quick Tips for Paralegals
November 24th, 2015
Conducting effective interviews is a crucial aspect of a paralegal's job duties. Here a a few quick tips on how to make sure you're hitting all the marks.
Know your role: avoid unauthorized practice of law
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer is responsible for taking reasonable measure to ensure that clients, courts, and other lawyers are aware that a paralegal, whose services are utilized by the lawyer in performing legal services, is not licensed to practice law.
Failing to properly set the ground rules on whose role is what inside the law firm with the prospective client can create confusion, unjustifiable expectations, and can increase the likelihood of an unauthorized practice of law scenario presenting itself.
Keep in mind that clients generally don’t know how law firms operate due to the fact that attorneys are not utilized by the public as often as, say, a dentist or doctor. Additionally, every law firm has its own polices and procedures. As such, it is the responsibility of the attorney and paralegal to explain the ground rules and set the appropriate communication tone early in a legal matter.
To avoid unauthorized practice of law, a lawyer should never delegate to a paralegal the following:
- The responsiblity for establishing the lawyer-client relationship
- Establishing the legal fees to be charged for a particular legal service
- The responsibility for rendering legal opinion rendered to a client unsupervised
During the interview
- Listen to the client
- Let the client explain their situation
- Maintain confidentiality
- Start with simple questions --- move to details later
- Never ask “leading questions”; open questions work best
- Always keep them comfortable during the interview by having the appropriate attitude, being courteous, and avoiding legal language
Types of interviews:
- Client Interviews (most common)
- Witness Interviews
- Friendly Witness
- Hostile Witness
- Official Witness
- Expert Witness
Post client interviews: Corroboration --- verifying material facts
Conduct a factual analysis of:
- Client’s interview
- Client documents
- Court records
- Financial statements
- Medical Records
- Governmental agency documents
Bring the facts and the law together by combining legal research and legal writing.
Finally, always document the interview ASAP.