Book Review – Effective Legal Interviewing and Counselling

Jul 26, 2019 | 2019, Book Review, News

by M A (Riette) du Plessis (106 pages)
Juta & Co (Pty) Ltd

Effective Legal Interviewing and Counselling“Two may talk together under the same roof for many years, yet never really meet; and two others at first speech are old friends.”– Mary Catherwood (1847-1901)

The ability of an attorney to connect and communicate effectively with a client on a personal yet professional basis comes more easily to some than to others. A friendly, open demeanour, an engaging personality, a warm welcome, a sympathetic ear, a genuine interest in the client, can all go a long way to setting the tone and establishing the groundwork for fruitful dialogue.

But even those gifted with natural interpersonal skills will benefit from the guidance which this newly published book offers, and so will their clients.

Written in an easy-to-read informal style, the ten chapters methodically deal with every aspect of consultations, interviews, meetings and discussions with a client. Planning and preparing for an initial get-together with the client is a tactical as well as an organisational process. Techniques used for a productive conversation are set out, and the importance of achieving client satisfaction is emphasised. The art of persuasion, gaining the confidence of the client, and building a mutually supportive relationship with the client are all examined.

The author unpacks the essence of counselling skills, establishing rapport, conveying the confidentiality of disclosures made, reassuring the client, non-verbal communications including body language, listening carefully to what the client says, and responding appropriately.

Practical examples of exchanges between attorneys and clients illustrate ways of approaching problems, and articulate the purpose of a line of questioning to explore possible legal and non-legal outcomes.

Appropriate to its practical purpose, the text is free of footnotes, but does contain a useful summarized interviewing schedule which provides a check-list framework from beginning to end of the process to ensure that every aspect necessary to be covered, and every detail required is extracted and noted during an interview.

The author points out:

“Clients will ultimately make the decisions pertaining to their cases and will need to have comprehensive information and understanding, including the consequences, of the decisions they instruct you to implement. Effective legal interviewing and counselling, which includes educating clients about the law and the legal system, play a significant role in empowering clients to make these decisions.”

Not only students and candidate attorneys, but also legal practitioners will find much sensible advice, thoughtful observations and handy hints which are applicable not only to client interviews, but also to interaction with third parties, opposing lawyers and witnesses. The skills which this book unfurls can also add value to additional professional legal areas such as advocacy, mediation, settlement negotiations and other alternative dispute resolution options.

The author Riette du Plessis BA, LLB, LLM, PhD is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand. She previously practiced as an attorney and conveyancer, and has two decades experience as a law lecturer, including 12 years teaching clinical legal education at the Wits Law Clinic. Her seamless blend of intellectual insight, professional experience, and practical teaching know-how has produced an accessible, balanced gem of a handbook, disarmingly straightforward, but wisely crafted.

Publisher Juta will be justifiably proud to have this title on its shelves. Special mention is also due to the author’s daughter Maren Mia du Plessis for the striking and attractive back and front cover images and cover designers Drag and Drop. Sometimes a book and its cover fit like a hand in a glove.

Review by Louis Rood BA LLB (UCT), Consultant at Fairbridges Wertheim Becker Attorneys.