By Taylor Williams, Fall 2017 HeLP Student Intern
Here in the HeLP Legal Services Clinic, new students are enrolled each semester. Unfortunately, navigating the legal system can take much longer than that. For example, clients appealing a denial of disability benefits can wait more than a year before their case is even scheduled to go to court. Since many of the HeLP clinic’s cases do not fall neatly into a semester box, the clinic’s clients often work with multiple teams of students. As one semester comes to a close, the client’s current team will “transfer” the case to a new team of students for the following semester.
While all transfer cases will be different, one thing remains the same – you will have to contact the client. Phone call is the preferred method of initial contact, as it is much more personal than sending an e-mail or worse, a text. A well-executed phone call tells clients that they are not just a case file being passed from one person to the next but a valued human being. This is vital to fostering an effective working relationship from the beginning.
The following tips for before, during, and after the initial phone call will help you start off your transfer case on the right foot.
Before the Phone Call:
- Review the Case File: First things first, start with the client’s file. Review the documents with a critical eye, noticing any gaps in the facts and noting any questions you have. It may be helpful to read the file in chronological order by starting from the back. Pay particular attention to transfer memos any previous teams have left behind, as their insight is invaluable.
- Establish a Goal: Consider the next steps that need to be taken to get the case moving in the right direction. Is there anything that you need or that is missing from the file? Do you need to meet the client in person? In answering these questions, think about why you answered yes or no. This will help you develop a goal for the phone call.
- Prepare Your Questions/Requests: Compile any questions you had from reviewing the file into a written list, and then add to it with questions that will help establish your goal. Having the questions written out will provide you with a tangible roadmap to ensure you are getting what you need out of the call, and it can also help soothe nerves. If you will be meeting in person, examine the list and strike any questions that are better asked at the meeting. Rearrange the questions into an organized format that has a natural flow of conversation.
During the Phone Call:
- Use Your Roadmap (but don’t be afraid to deviate!): Once you make the phone call, begin by following your written roadmap of questions. Even with the best preparation, however, the flow of conversation may require asking your questions in a different order, so it may be helpful for you to tick off the questions you have received information for as you go. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask questions you come up with on the spot.
- Take Notes: Keep a pen handy while on the phone. Next to each question, jot down some key words that will help spark your memory as to the client’s response. Keep a list of anything the client requests you do.
- Review Highlights and Reminders: At the end of the call, debrief with the client and summarize what was discussed. Review anything the client needs to do and what you will do before your next meeting, as well as when that meeting will be.
After the Phone Call:
- Document the Contact: While the conversation is still fresh in your mind, use your notes to document the phone call in your case management system. Right after the call you will still understand the short hand you used, and you will be able to create a more in-depth record of the call beyond your key words.
- Discuss with Team: If you have any questions or updates, be sure to let your team members know. They may have a different, useful perspective to share. Even if nothing has changed with the client or their case, it is still a good idea to give your team a heads up about the call and what was discussed, to keep everyone involved and on the same page.
- Follow Up with an Email: Send the client an email so that everyone has documentation of the communication. The email should include a list of what you requested the client to do after the phone call to ensure that the client will remember. Finally, always include your phone number for ease of future contact.