Building trust with clients you’ve never met in Family Law

Going through proceedings in the Family Court will likely be the most difficult thing a client will ever have to face. For many, Covid-19 restrictions have made the process much harder and distressing to navigate. Developing a sense of trust and security with your client should be in the very DNA of a Family Lawyer.  Yet the reality today is that Family Lawyers may not have even met most of their clients for the year in person.

It cannot be underestimated how the absence of client-Solicitor interaction impacts a client’s faith in confiding in you and entrusting you with a case that will impact the rest of theirs and their children’s lives. The handshakes; eye-contact, gentle nodding or tilt of the head and facial expressions signal empathy, understanding, listening and humanity.

Building trust in a pandemic is now a skill-set that laywers have had to develop and perfect rapidly. Making introductions and taking instructions over the phone requires astute questioning, cutting through issues whilst clients may be frantically unloading information. A laywer’s tone of voice becomes their greatest tool in conveying reassurance, calming anxieties, highlighting seriousness and mapping out next steps.

Fortunately, we are living in an era of rapid technological advancement and the legal profession has been able to adapt and cater to the demands of remote proceedings. The result is that the duty to develop rapport and convey reassurance is now more pivotal than ever. What was already an overwhelming experience for clients has now evolved into an alien sequence of virtual meetings, hearings and conferences. Legal jargon now expands its vocab to include that of Covid, with zoom-ing, bt-meet-me-ing, Microsoft teams-ing, mute-ing, microphone on, microphone off, camera on, camera off and so on and so forth.

Being Technologically literate in 2020 now transcends Microsoft package proficiency. The expectation for clients to be adept in video-conferencing is mammoth. The reality is that in legally-aided family proceedings, a huge proportion of clients will be vulnerable and below the poverty line. Access to smart phones, web-cams and emails is not afforded to us all. Although the courts can dial-in clients to remote hearings – the disadvantage to a party that cannot visibly see the proceedings play out  before them is palpable. The Second Nuffield Family Justice Observatory Consultation on remote hearings published last month indicates that whilst most professionals surveyed reported that they felt fairness and justice had been achieved most or all of the time, the majority of parents and family members were less positive. In fact, the majority of parents and family members had concern about the way their case had been dealt with and just under half reported that they had not understood what had happened during the hearing.*

Hence the urgency for family lawyers to combat such barriers, think innovatively and place huge emphasis on client care. At  MSB we continue to endeavour to make our clients feel they are in a safe pair of hands, until we can shake each other’s again.

If you need support, please contact our expert Family team.