By Shea Hazel
On Wednesday, April 20, 2021, Washington Council of Lawyers hosted an inspiring session to encourage and empower client-centered representation. Redefining Success: Empowering Client-Centered Representation was moderated by Jen Masi, Pro Bono Director, Children’s Law Center, and included panelists Katherine Conway, Staff Attorney, CAIR Coalition; Tracy Davis, Managing Attorney, Bread for the City; and, Faiza Majeed, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Panelists offered suggestions on client-centered approaches to counseling and legal strategies; prioritizing client agency and empowering clients through the resolution of their cases.
Meet Clients Where They Are
“Meeting clients where they are” requires holistic, client counseling and representative approaches, obliging lawyers to disregard any biases and actively listen.
- Be present and actively listen to clients’ stories to understand the injustices they experience and their unique goals and priorities.
- Balance legal expertise with client expertise of their lived experiences.
- Thank clients for calling when their cases are sources of trauma and stress, understanding they may be traumatized or retraumatized throughout the legal process.
- Understand some clients may be detained and have been stripped of their liberties.
- Respect clients’ dignity in making their own decisions and allow them the time they need to reflect and commit to legal strategies.
Client-Centered Lawyering and Representation
Applying principles of cultural humility can keep lawyers centered on clients’ needs and increase client advocacy and zealous representation.
- Support client’s agency over their cases.
- Honestly and realistically educate clients about possible options and outcomes (including potential consequences), to empower informed decision making.
- Enlist subject matter reinforcements, when needed.
- Prioritize client goals, first; legal strategies, second.
- Encourage clients to take on tasks, which may help them proceed on their own at a later date if necessary.
- Educate against biases and assumptions.
- Speak up about systemic disparities and racism.
- Build power within communities by conducting know-your-rights trainings and by representating organizations such as tenant associations.
- Connect clients to mental health or case management services where appropriate – coordinating with their providers and advocating for the clients to the provider, while acknowledging your role in representing a client’s stated interest.
- Revisit and redefine success throughout the attorney-client relationship.
- Continually reflect upon your own lawyering skills so you can continue to better deliver client-centered approaches.
Successful Case Closure
Clients need to be empowered, to keep moving their lives forward, after their cases have closed, regardless of the outcome.
- Celebrate micro-moments of success throughout the case.
- Reassure clients for showing up and making their -often silenced- voices heard.
- Help clients understand their problems so they are equipped to respond in the future.
- Ensure clients understand any court orders and help them prepare for and mitigate against potential challenges.
- Put ego aside and not expect to have the closure you might want.
- Preserve client relationships and understand they may call upon your services in the future.
As a reminder, hearing and validating the injustice a client may have experienced while being zealous and honest about achieving real justice for them under the law, is challenging and rewarding work. If you are not taking care of yourself, you cannot take care of your clients.
It is important to understand your work-life balance and prioritize your mental, spiritual, and physical health. Your ability and availability to advocate for your clients is a personal decision and there is a community of pro bono and civic-minded attorneys to collaborate with through Washington Council of Lawyers and across the District.
Check out more ways to connect at Washington Council of Lawyers’ upcoming events. And continue the conversation on social media using #50YearsStrong.
Shea Hazel is a law student at UMass Law and a member of Washington Council of Lawyers Advocacy Committee