Unheard Voices and a Listening Ear – a Law Student SRL Coaching ExperienceNSRLP
Contributed by William Good, Law 3, University of Windsor and Volunteer, NSRLP
The legal education system aims to produce students who will meet the needs of the legal market. However, it only achieves this goal in a general sense having missed the needs of potential clients who are often regarded as peripheral to the major market destination for graduating law students – large firms serving primarily corporation clients.
This is unfortunate because there is an exponential increase in those who are for financial reasons seeking alternatives to traditional (full-on representation) legal services. The legal education system is in the process of trying to imagine how to prepare students to serve the tens of thousands of Canadians who have real legal problems, but who cannot afford what many lawyers charge. We are still without a strategy for legal services outside this box.
What makes the NSRLP unique is that it wasn’t formed to press for any particular change agenda – but to be the change that people need today. Cast adrift by the legal system because they simultaneously earn too much and not enough, self-represented litigants have a source of resources and support in the NSRLP. The NSRLP can offer assistance via law students who can offer SRLs coaching on legal procedure and generally support them through the process.
Acting as a SRL Coach
My work coaching a SRL has been both difficult and rewarding. To me she is not my client, but someone to whom I have committed to provide aid at a time when no one else will act. She is alone against an experienced lawyer in a system of processes that are complex and daunting to the uninitiated.
As a law student and a coach I am constantly challenged to find tools to equip her to prepare for each step of the proceedings, while staying clear of anything that could be construed as giving legal advice. My role is necessarily limited.
What I have discovered was that at a fundamental level people want their lawyer to hear them, and hear all of it. Not just the words relevant to a legal matter, but the story as a whole – what they feel about what is happening to them, what are their fears and concerns, as well as the “legally relevant” information.
Litigants want their story to be heard without judgment. Lawyers are fond of saying that their clients should have their day in court, and many litigants believe that this is where they will really be heard (however, they are often disappointed). I don’t believe litigants are always so particular as to by whom or where their story is heard, but simply that it is heard.
My experience as a SRL Coach has shown me that we need to offer clients a real “listening ear” and a chance to tell their story. I was not expecting what “my” SRL would most appreciate about my work. It was my genuine compassion for her situation that I believe made the most difference for her, as well as for me.
Showing this empathy and compassion formed a foundation of trust between the two of us, and trust is never an easy thing to earn. I learned that clients want above all else to be able to trust the person whom they work with. This is not something that can be fabricated or taught, only earned through time and effort.
The NSRLP provides the environment for students, such as myself, to practice the human element of the legal practice. It is the most important thing I can give to my future clients. To my surprise, it was also the thing that my SRL most wanted from me. Going forward into my legal career, I can offer the lawyer as a human being.