Guest Post By Cheryl Stephens —thanks Cheryl.
Lawyers who represent people with language challenges or other disabilities ought to be aware that many of those disabilities can affect their clients’ ability to process information. But you can help make it easier, and make things go more smoothly for your clients and yourself.
Try these tips:
1. Help the client commit important information to memory.
Repeat important facts and instructions.
Summarize the discussion before the client leaves.
Invite the client to call if he needs to refresh his memory on what is to be done.
2. Show the client what is needed.
If you must ask the client to get a book, a brochure, or a government or stationer’s form, show the client a copy before he or she leaves your office. Better yet, give the client a photocopy of the front cover or first page of the item.
3. Give the client reminder calls.
Have someone phone ahead of time to confirm appointments, and explain the purpose of any meetings.
When you send a letter, also call the client to confirm meetings or inform her of facts. You could ask your assistant or secretary to call “to confirm receipt of the letter” and confirm the appointment details or orally review the important in formation it contains.
4. Communicate in a variety of ways.
Ask your client the best ways to communicate with her. Be willing to use e-mail for clients who find it easier or more effective to see things in writing. Conversely, you can tape-record your letters to the client and send the tape. (Digital recording may also be an option.)
Consider recording your conversations with the client as well, and giving the client the tape. Remember to use a standard audio-tape, unless your client prefers a dictaphone tape or a digital audio file.
6. Use plain language.
Stay away from legalese. Write all of your communications in plain language, without unnecessary complexity. Use a disclaimer if you must, but use simpler language to provide legal “information” than you feel you need to use to give legal advise.
Cheryl Stephens, of Building Rapport, the plain langauge blog, is a leader in the field of plain language communication, and provides training and workshops to clients all over North America. She is making a guest appearance today promoting her new book, Plain Language Legal Writing.