The objective of a first interview with a client is to get as much information from them in order to ascertain what their legal problem is, whether they have a case and how you can use your legal skills to solve their problem.

Having an interview with a lawyer can be extremely uncomfortable for a person, especially if they have not had any previous dealings with one.[1] The client may be reluctant to reveal everything to the lawyer, so it is their job to make the client feel at ease and be willing to tell their story.

Structure of Questions:

In order to accomplish the objective of getting the right information out of the client without making them feel uncomfortable it is important to structure questions correctly and to use different types of questions at the correct time in the interview.

During the first half of an interview open-ended questions are most useful as the objective is to have the client tell their story in their own words.[4] A lawyer should not be putting words into a client’s mouth, or attempting to direct them in a certain direction at this point. Get their story first, before changing the questioning technique to more closed questions during the second half, as it then becomes important to clarify the exact legal issue and the information needed to solve this problem.

Structure of Interview:

It is important to have the structure of the interview in place before meeting with the client. Having a pre-determined structure aids in getting the client to give the practitioner the information required to successfully progress the matter, aids in sticking to the time allotted to the interview and will also help to put the client at ease.

The first step is to have an introduction to the interview, meaning greeting the client and easing them into what may very well be their first interaction with a lawyer. It is important to set the scene about what will occur in the interview and also to give the client an idea of how long it will last.[6] It is also important to ensure the client understands the principle of client privilege and state to them how everything they say will remain confidential.[7] A first interview is not all about providing legal advice, but more about reassuring the client that their problem can be solved by showing your professional conduct skills.[8] Taking notes is crucial, as this is what will be relied upon following the interview and they will also form part of the client file.[9] Make the client aware that while you are taking notes you are still listening intently and explain why the notes are necessary.[10] Ensure the client is given the opportunity to ask any questions at this point, before jumping into the next part of the interview. 

The second part of the interview is to ascertain what it is exactly that has brought the client in today.[11] They obviously have a reason for wanting to see a lawyer and it is the role of the interviewer to get this out of the client. This is the information gathering stage of the interview.[12] The use of an open ended question here can be a good tool, such as “what brought you to see a lawyer today?” As well as getting an initial understanding of what the client’s problem is, it is also a good idea to get an understanding of what they would like done, especially in civil matters where the client is looking for a solution to their problem.

The third part of an interview is to establish a timeline of the issue in question.[14] This part of the interview is where the lawyer must dive deeper into the client’s issue and get an understanding of the surrounding circumstances. It is important to ask lots of open ended questions as part of this process, as the aim is to get the client to tell their story.[15] The process is similar to an examination in chief during litigation, in that you want the client to in their own words provide as much detail as possible about the issue. Questions such as, “what happened next?” or “what happened after that?” are useful.

After ascertaining a chronological overview of the issue and the circumstances leading up to it, the lawyer must now begin to develop and theory and probe the client about specific details about which more information is required.[17] It is during this part of the interview that a lawyer must use their legal knowledge to begin putting the pieces of the puzzle together, so to speak, meaning identifying what legal issue it is that the client has and what further information is needed to support this claim.[18] The use of more direct or closed questioning can be helpful during this part, as the lawyer should direct the client to disclose more details about a certain part of their story.

The final part of an interview is the conclusion. During this part the lawyer if they have the knowledge can give an overview of the legal issue the client faces and what the process is, as well as possible remedies, or if the lawyer does not have the legal knowledge at this point to summarise what the client has said and show and understanding and assure the client that research into their problem will now be undertaken and information provided to them in the next few days.[20] It is important to give the client a ‘next step’, telling them what you will do next and when they can expect a response, as well as asking them to do something, if required, such as providing a document that may be required.

The structure outlined above is the technique I would use in conducting a first interview with a client. By following this basic structure I believe I would be able to communicate effectively with a client and get the required information from them.


[1]{cke_protected_1} Carlos Turini, Your Initial Family Law Interview (2013) Elringtons, 5 <http://elringtons.com.au/services/family-law/your-initial-family-law-interview/>.

[2]{cke_protected_2} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 1 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[3]{cke_protected_3} Amy Diamond, Client Interview (31 December 2013) The Student Lawyer, 7 < http://thestudentlawyer.com/2012/12/31/assessment-4-client-interview/>.

[4]{cke_protected_4} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 1 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[5]{cke_protected_5} Amy Diamond, Client Interview (31 December 2013) The Student Lawyer, 7 < http://thestudentlawyer.com/2012/12/31/assessment-4-client-interview/>.

[6]{cke_protected_6} Amy Diamond, Client Interview (31 December 2013) The Student Lawyer, 9 < http://thestudentlawyer.com/2012/12/31/assessment-4-client-interview/>.

[7]{cke_protected_7} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 2 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[8]{cke_protected_8} Amy Diamond, Client Interview (31 December 2013) The Student Lawyer, 4 < http://thestudentlawyer.com/2012/12/31/assessment-4-client-interview/>.

[9]{cke_protected_9} {cke_protected_10}[9]{cke_protected_11} Jessica C, Learning Client Interviewing (30 April 2013) Survive Law, 3 < http://survivelaw.com/index.php/blogs/careers/1244-learning-client-interviewing>.

[10]{cke_protected_12} Jessica C, Learning Client Interviewing (30 April 2013) Survive Law, 3 < http://survivelaw.com/index.php/blogs/careers/1244-learning-client-interviewing>.

[11]{cke_protected_13} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 2 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[12]{cke_protected_14} Peter Szabo, Family Law Practice Manual (2013) Smokeball <http://www.smokeball.com.au/11-the-first-interview-in-1-the-aim-of-the-first-interview/preview/guide/9636-264814>.

[13]{cke_protected_15} Amy Diamond, Client Interview (31 December 2013) The Student Lawyer, 7 < http://thestudentlawyer.com/2012/12/31/assessment-4-client-interview/>.

[14]{cke_protected_16} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 2 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[15]{cke_protected_17} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 2 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[16]{cke_protected_18} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 3 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[17]{cke_protected_19} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 3 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[18]{cke_protected_20} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 3 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

[19]{cke_protected_21} Amy Diamond, Client Interview (31 December 2013) The Student Lawyer, 7 < http://thestudentlawyer.com/2012/12/31/assessment-4-client-interview/>.

[20]{cke_protected_22} Amy Diamond, Client Interview (31 December 2013) The Student Lawyer, 1 < http://thestudentlawyer.com/2012/12/31/assessment-4-client-interview/>.

[21]{cke_protected_23} Deborah Maranville, The Very Basics of Legal Interviewing (2006) University of Washington, 3 < http://courses.washington.edu/civpro03/resources/interviewing.doc>.

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