How to Talk to Clients About Sensitive Issues

By Liz Johnson - August 22, 2017
How to Talk to Clients About Sensitive Issues

In this edition of Young, Hungry & Committed, Maryland solo virtual office lawyer Liz Johnson shares how she works with clients who don’t want to talk about the sensitive issues.

Let’s talk about words for a second.

Words can help explain concepts, documents, legal mumbo jumbo and how it plays out in the grand circle of life. But getting serious for a moment, more than once, I’ve run into people who did not want to talk about the serious and sensitive issues, like the concept of Power of Attorneys. I know people have different ideas of what comes next (legally) once a person passes on/dies/goes over the rainbow. And I really do try and be sensitive to people, it is a delicate subject.

But when it comes to talking about kicking the bucket, it’s often not one of those acceptable conversation starters unless your client has an awesome sense of humor. Some clients do, but you know what they say about assuming.

My Experience

I recently had a client who really had a hard time with the word “death” and any synonyms thereof. It actually tripped me up pretty badly. Here’s how that interaction went down:

Client: “So the Power of Attorney and Advance Directive are documents that are active while alive, why do we need to talk about death?”

Me: “Well, um, it’s an advance directive, these are decisions you want your agent to make when um you’re um you know. Let’s move on. Oh, so there’s this section where you can name an agent to take care of the disposition of your um . . . oh hell. Well, you know, let’s move on and talk about the Power of Attorney. So when you can’t um make decisions, are incapac – wait does that sound like death?”

I can’t even recall the last time I got so tongue-tied trying to find a better way to talk about things.

As lawyers, we have to be gentle and conscious of how we speak and interact with our clients. Coming to talk to a lawyer can be nerve racking in the first place, let alone bringing up topics like what happens after you die.

It’s important to show compassion and support but if you have bad news that the person needs to know, deliver it as best you can. Handling these types of cases is not right for everyone. Many of us need improvement on how to best talk with these types of clients.

Effectively communicating with people who are coping with intimate issues, like death, can be very difficult and your approach will need to vary depending on the person and their situation.

So the moral of the story is this, try to ease and soothe your clients to the best of your abilities. But remember, you’re the lawyer and they came to you for help. Make sure they have a full understanding of what they need to know at the end of the conversation, even if it is difficult for them to hear.

Words. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

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About Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson is a newly solo lawyer, specializing in Estate Planning, Deeds and Elder Law. Liz is also a virtual office client in Law Firm Suites’ Annapolis, MD location. Her bi-weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the ins and outs of life as a solo attorney, finding her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice. Connect with Liz on LinkedIn or learn more on her website!

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