Improving Rapport by Improving Client Interviewing Skills

Mariam Slaibi, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Take it from a fellow law student: working in the HeLP Clinic will finely tune your client interviewing skills. Initially, when I began working in the clinic, I did not believe I would need to employ the client interviewing skills that were being taught to the class. I have a background in social work, so I was under the impression that I was already familiar with everything there was to know about the latest and greatest ways to interact with clients. Boy, was I wrong.

At the end of my first client phone call, I thought I would try out one of the techniques in our assigned readings. I simply thanked the client for taking the time to speak with me and let her know I pray for her children’s health to improve with each passing day. It only took a few seconds, and I was blown away by the response. The client thanked me profusely for my kindness. In an instant, a strong rapport was established between us. In all my years interning at NGOs where I have worked closely with clients, I am sure I have been thanked at some point or another. However, I have never been thanked for my kindness and kind words before I ever met the client. After this interaction, I was grateful that I listened in class and did my assigned readings, even if I wrongly assumed I was not going to benefit.

This interaction with my client is a quintessential example of the experience one will gain by working in the HeLP Clinic. For things you thought you knew, you will gain a deeper understanding. And for things you did not know, you will come to be very familiar with them. Moreover, client interviewing is a fundamental skill we have been given the opportunity to develop here at Georgia State University College of Law. We have been given the rare opportunity to be a part of a legal clinic and have our very own clients—as inexperienced law students! This is not something all law schools offer. So by being given this opportunity, we can get to know our clients on a deeper level.

In addition, although it is essential that one be familiar with the law relevant to their clients’ cases, it is my belief that it is equally essential to be able to ask one’s client questions and get to know them on a human level. The cases we are working on are not those of faceless corporations and wealthy businessmen; they are the cases of low-income parents with sick children. To win our clients’ cases and secure stable housing or disability benefits are undoubtedly victories. However, we would miss out on getting to help our clients in other aspects of their lives if we do not take the time to sit down and speak with them. Many times, the most important facts of a case are gathered by having an informal, personal conversation with a client. Moreover, visiting a client in their home and knowing the right questions to ask, whilst remaining professional, are skills that may change the outcome of a case. For these reasons, I am grateful to be a part of the HeLP Clinic in order to develop and help my clients develop, as well.