“Counselor! Please Counsel Your Client!”*

For the past few years, I have taught a course in legal studies to undergraduate students at Brandeis University. Teaching undergraduates about the law is challenging—yet probably one of the most illuminating experiences with regard to my interaction with clients. By the time students get to law school, they have already developed a particular mindset about their relationship with the law and the purpose of the legal system. This is different from the mindset of the general population, which is well represented by my students, who have such diverse majors as biology, theatre, and economics.

These differences help remind me of a critical yet very simple fact: People hire attorneys because they need help solving problems. See how simple this sounds? The difficulty, from the lawyer’s perspective, lies in identifying the real problem, and helping the client achieve the proper solution.

The first thing I teach my students is how to identify legal issues in a client’s story. Sometimes, there are no legal issues despite a compelling narrative from the client. This is extremely frustrating for the students, who insist that the law must provide a remedy given the harm that has occurred. I can think of clients who have expressed this same frustration: “But what they did was just wrong!”

Other times, there are plenty of legal issues, but no good legal remedies to solve the client’s problem. This is equally frustrating, and I can think of clients who have won a lawsuit but failed to gain the satisfaction they were looking for with a legal resolution. Finally, sometimes there are legal issues, and legal remedies, but also legal fees —which create an entirely different problem for the client!

Through these class discussions, I see how helpless the students feel not knowing how to solve hypothetical problems within the system of laws—which helps remind me how clients must feel at that first meeting with their attorney. It is at this point I remind my students that another word for an attorney is “counselor.”

Good attorneys are not just lawyers. They are counselors in every sense of that definition. Being a good counselor requires educating the client, identifying the client’s true problem, and considering all possible solutions both in and out of the legal system. When a lawyer conducts himself as his client’s counselor, the client will feel prepared, protected, and positive about the solutions available—just as I hope my students feel about their final exams!

At Konowitz & Greenberg, we are very proud of the fact that our attorneys have such diverse interests, talents and backgrounds. Though this may make us disagree on some things, we would all agree that this diversity makes us better counselors.

*Overheard comment made by a judge in the Suffolk County Superior Court.

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