Client Science: Advice for Lawyers on Counseling Clients through Bad News and Other Legal Realities, by Marjorie Corman Aaron. Oxford University Press, 2012, 288 pages. Paperback, $39.95, ISBN 9780199891900.
The message in Client Science: Advice for Lawyers on Counseling Clients through Bad News and Other Legal Realities can be summed up by the first sentence on page 199. Author Marjorie Corman Aaron asserts, “A lawyer is a more strategic and effective counselor when fully informed as to the impact of language, meaning, emotion, and psychology on his client’s capacity and willingness to understand and accept bad news and legal realities.” Effectively communicating with clients is a challenge every lawyer must meet. When the attorney must deliver unpleasant news, that challenge is made even more difficult. Client Science offers a wealth of advice on how attorneys can sensitively but efficiently inform their clients of the facts and choices they face. It is an excellent handbook that is highly recommended for all law libraries.
Client Science consists of nine chapters. Chapter 1, “Bad News and the Fully Informed Client,” is an overview of how attorneys can maintain the confidence of their clients even if they are delivering unfavorable news. It is best if the attorney prefaces the bad news with a measure of caring but doesn’t stall. The attorney should be direct and honest about the client’s choices and chance for success. Chapter 2, “Translating the Terrain,” explains how to translate legalese into terms the client can comprehend so that the client can be fully informed. In Chapter 3, “Meaning Truths,” Aaron discusses the tendency that clients have to pursue a case based on emotions and the sense of being wronged. Clients can falsely believe that the legal system is always fair. They may want to tenaciously fight when practical considerations suggest that is not the best course of action. The attorney must “reframe” the narrative of a case—not to alter the facts, but to explain how the opposition, or the jury, could interpret them differently. Chapter 4, “Emotional Effects and Affecting Emotions,” discusses different emotional states and reactions that occur in lawyer-client communications. Aaron says a positive emotional state helps the client to make sense of complex legal information and to make difficult decisions. Chapter 5, “Predictable and Potent Psychology,” explains the strong role that emotions play in decision-making. People usually have difficulty accepting facts that oppose their own perceptions and so attorneys must counter the tendency that clients have to do what “feels” right. Aaron observes that even “when people learn that someone else witnessed the same circumstances but perceived them differently, most retain unshaken faith in their own perceptions” (p.141). Attorneys must objectively describe the realities of the legal process, eliminating as much as possible their own psychological biases. In “Voices in Choice,” the sixth chapter, Aaron illustrates how vocal choices can impact the way a message is received. In conversation with a client, the attorney must enunciate clearly. He must take sufficiently long pauses, especially after relaying complicated or negative information, so that the client has time to absorb what he has heard. In short, the attorney must speak in slow, controlled, and confident tones. Chapter 7, “Choreography of Counsel,” is similar to Chapter 6 in that it discusses the physicality of communication. Body position and movement hugely affect the client’s perception of the attorney’s authority and abilities. Used appropriately, body language can indicate confidence and engagement; used improperly, it can signify detachment or defensiveness. Chapter 8, “A Gesture to Clarity,” shows how gestures can increase or detract from the speaker’s message. Attorneys should avoid random gesturing, but a prop such as an easel, notepad, or computer can be used to reinforce or facilitate a point, as research findings show that gesturing can enhance the listener’s understanding and retention. In the final chapter, “Channel Navigation Notes,” the author shows how the proper use of speech and body language creates a positive interpersonal connection.
Client Science is packed with practical advice. This illuminating guide would be extremely useful for any attorney or law student and any other professional who wishes to improve their communication skills.
Donna M. Fisher (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a law librarian at Senniger Powers LLP in St. Louis.