How to give legal advice

I regularly listen to barrister Daniel Barnett on LBC on Wednesday evenings at 9pm taking quick fire legal questions from callers – Daniel is unprepared for each call and it’s live.

It’s a brilliant example to students and practitioners of how a lawyer can rapidly (i) narrow down the conversation, (ii) identify the issue and (iii) advise.  And here’s how I think he does it in 4 steps:

1. Daniel starts with ONE open question (it doesn’t really matter what it is: “Why have you called?”  or “What’s your issue?)  and then allows some limited time for the caller to tell their story in their own words.  While the caller is speaking, Daniel is listening hard and forensically sifting the relevant information from the non-relevant.
2. Then (sometimes by interrupting) he asks a series of closed questions, often ending them with “Yes or No”.  It’s like going through a mental flow-chart that he is making up in real time, applying his legal knowledge to the situation.
[A lot has been written about the advantages of asking open questions, but for this purpose, a series of good closed questions is the best way to get to the issue.]
3. Finally, before advising, Daniel asks what the caller (or client) actually wants, or says “What’s your question?”.  The answer is often “compensation”, but there can be a bit more to it – e.g. from whom does the caller want the money?  Do they actually also want an apology?  Do they just want to hear from an expert that they have no claim?
4. Then the advice – straight to the point – nearly always with a view about whether the caller has a claim, and for those that do, a suggestion about how to bring it.  So by the end of what is often only a 1 or 2 minute interaction, Daniel has understood the story, gleaned enough information to have a firm legal opinion, put himself into the shoes of the client and delivered the legal advice.
I know that disclaimers apply, but it does show how effective and helpful good legal advice can be and it doesn’t have to take long.
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