Faculty Post: Can We Talk?

By Professor Melinda Drew

My name is Melinda Drew and, at Northeastern University School of Law, I wear three hats.  My first hat is as the director of the Academic Success Program which works with students learning new skills such as case briefing, course outlining, and other necessary law school skills.  On your schedule, when you arrive, you will see that there is a workshop every Tuesday during the lunch hour and that workshop is devoted to teaching such skills.  My second hat is as coordinator of disability services.  In that role, I work with students living with disabilities to access accommodations that will help level the law school playing field.  My third hat is as a teacher.  I teach two upper level courses:  Professional Responsibility and Legal Interviewing & Counseling.  It is the latter course I am going to talk about today.  Legal Interviewing & Counseling is a skills-based course.  I learned much of what I know about client interviewing and counseling in my first career which was as a psychiatric nurse.  When I graduated from law school (by the way, I am an alumna of this law school) I discovered just how useful those skills were in working with my law firm’s clients.

Students in Legal Interviewing & Counseling learn the basics of how to interview clients and witnesses to get needed information and to develop a relationship with the person.  When a client works with a lawyer, it is important that the client feel that the lawyer has the client’s best interests in mind and is working towards the client’s goals.  The initial interview, in particular, sets the stage for the relationship that follows between the client and the lawyer.  Similarly, an initial interview with a potential witness may make the difference between a witness who refuses to give any information and one who wants to help your client.  So, we begin with discussing basic interviewing techniques but, true to the Northeastern mission of experiential learning, we quickly progress to practicing interviewing.  Each student takes on the role of a lawyer or a client.  The client has a set of facts and the lawyer has a brief outline of the reason the client is coming to see the lawyer.  From there, the lawyer interviews the client to uncover relevant information while creating the foundation for the representation of the client.  Each interview is followed by a debriefing in the class which allows students to learn from each other’s techniques – and sometimes each other’s mistakes.

Once students have learned the basics of interviewing, we move on to counseling.  In the legal setting client counseling can be defined as explaining the client’s options in such a way that the client is able to weigh them and make a decision.  Our goal is to learn to empower clients to make decisions about their legal matters that best fit the client’s life and goals.  The class is interactive, stimulating, and often fun.  I hope to see many of you in it in the future.

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