HELP Toolkit: Identifying and Responding to Family Violence for Family Law Legal Advisers – Supplemental Material

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Tab #6: Tips for Discussions with Your ClientEndnote 46

The safety of clients is paramount throughout the family law process, including when asking about family violence. Consider the following recommendations when communicating or meeting with your clients.

1. Tips for safe and effective communication

In addition to the tips set out at the beginning of the HELP Guide, the following tips are aimed at promoting safe and effective communication with clients.

2. Tips for effective email communication

Legal advisers frequently communicate with their family law clients by email. The following tips may be particularly helpful for emailing clients who have experienced trauma as a result of IPV or another traumatic event.

Consider how much written information your client can process through email. For example, does your client have any literacy and/or language barriers? In addition, remember that clients who have experienced trauma may have difficulty taking in advice or concentrating on the information in the email.Endnote 47 You may need to tailor your emails to be short and concise and focus on only a small number of topics and questions; some clients may not respond if the email is too long. Pay attention to the words that you use, as words and tone can be misinterpreted over email.

You can end your emails by offering to have a call to discuss any information outlined in the email. The client may become overwhelmed when reading the email and may not be able to process the information. By having a follow-up call, you can discuss the important parts of the email and receive responses to the questions you may have asked.

Be aware that you may receive multiple emails in response to the information and questions you sent out in one email. Your client might send several one-line response emails as opposed to one email. Be sensitive to the fact that this may be the only way your client can manage to provide you with the information you require to proceed with the case.

It is a good practice to send summary emails after any calls or meetings with your clients. These emails provide you the opportunity to acknowledge what was discussed in the call, which will indicate to your client that you did listen to them and will provide a written record of decisions. The follow-up emails can also help you to confirm decisions before you move forward with any instructions.

3. Tips and suggestions for virtual meetingsEndnote 48

As virtual meetings become more common, awareness of the importance of good virtual legal practices has increased.

If you must have the discussion virtually rather than face-to-face, consider whether it would be more appropriate to have a video or phone call. Remind clients about potential safety risks, such as whether they might be overheard by someone.Endnote 49

Choose a videoconference over a phone call when possible: This is the closest you can come to a face-to-face meeting and will make it much easier to develop a rapport with your client. If the initial consult occurs by phone, ask the client if it would be possible to arrange a videoconference for the next meeting. If your client has limited or no access to technology, try to find a solution, such as using the computer of a trusted friend or family member in a private location.

Be aware of your client’s needs and circumstances: Some clients may have difficulty accessing technology (e.g., limited or no access to phone, computer or internet or digital literacy issues). It is important to ask your client how you can support them in participating in meetings that are not in-person.

Remember that situations can quickly escalate and risk can increase. A scheduled meeting may no longer be a safe time to call. Remind your client that they can stop the call at any time.

Before asking your client about their case or about whether they have experienced family violence, it is important to ensure that they are alone and safe. You could set up a safe word or signal that the client can use or you could ask closed-ended questions that only require “yes” or “no” answers from your client, for example:

For more information on technology safety, see Tab #10: Safety Planning.

Be patient: Leave a short pause after your client finishes speaking to ensure that you are not rushing them. This will also help avoid talking over each other, a challenge with video and audio calls.

You may need to spend more time building rapport with your client before asking them about family violence. Note that vulnerable clients, especially victims of IPV, may not trust as easily, so there may be additional challenges in trying to connect with them by phone or by videoconference.

Eye contact and reacting to facial cues and other non-verbal clues are important to building connections, but difficult to achieve in video calls.

Tip: Set up your video so the client is in the top third and centre of the screen. When you are looking at their image, it will seem more like you are making direct eye contact.