I recently conducted my first client interview at the Health Advocacy Clinic. The client and I sat in a large open conference room along with another clinical student and my supervisor. Before the interview, I developed an outline and a strategy for conducting the interview. My goals were to establish rapport, get accurate information, and communicate to the client his next steps. I went in with a 4 page outline of relevant topics to cover and rehearsed my questions. I prepared very concise questions and I expected to get clear and concise answers. During the intake interview, I accomplished many of my goals. I established good rapport and learned about the client. But I did not get clear information regarding the client’s issue; or at least the amount of clarity that I was expecting. The interview brought some frustrations. I had specific and organized topics in my outline, but the answers I got were sporadic. In addition, the client brought in a large amount of unorganized paperwork. Trying to juggle listening to the client, looking at his paperwork, and writing things down was difficult. Another challenge was the client’s fatigue. I could have talked to the client for three hours. After about one hour he began to get tired and became more emotional about his situation. I tried to balance being sympathetic and also cutting through irrelevant stories. I was thinking about all of these different things during the interview. It caused me some confusion but overall, I think I accomplished the goals of the intake interview.
The biggest challenge in the interview was simply the amount of goals. I felt pressure to do a “good job.” But doing a good job in one area meant another area might be sacrificed. For example, this was the first time I met the client. He was hurting emotionally, and I wanted to establish trust. I wanted to really listen to the client and connect with him. I wanted to be patient and not dismiss the things he was saying even though some things were irrelevant. I wanted the client to leave feeling that we cared and could be trusted in both competency and zeal. Another goal of the intake interview was paperwork. I needed my client to fill out a large amount of intake paperwork, and I needed to sift through the large amount of paperwork that the client brought us. Most of all, I wanted to gather clear facts. These goals required concentration on my part.
I learned valuable lessons during the interview. Clients are coming to the clinic with diverse experiences. For example, some clients have had bad experiences with attorneys. I need to understand that and be prepared for emotional conversations, frustrations, and ambiguity in fact gathering. Part of interviewing with clients will also be setting good expectations for them and balancing my need to gather relevant facts against the client telling unrelated stories. I also need to practice. Building rapport and fact gathering will only come more naturally with additional experience. I’m excited to take advantage of more opportunities to interview and engage with clients.