This is a guest blog post by Dr Judith Reynolds. Judith is a Research Associate in the Centre for Language and Communication Research at Cardiff University. Her research investigates multilingual and intercultural communication in legal advice work, focusing on legal advice about asylum and refugee family reunion in the UK. She has a professional background as a solicitor (now non-practising).
If you are seeking asylum or other immigration advice, the support that you receive from your lawyer is very important. A big part of getting the right support is establishing effective communication between you and your lawyer.
Good communication between lawyers and clients is considered important in the UK legal profession. Solicitors, barristers and OISC-accredited caseworkers all have professional obligations to ensure they communicate effectively with their clients, both orally (when speaking) and in writing. This includes things like taking a client’s language needs into account when giving advice.
Communication is a two-way process, however, and there are many things that you can do, as a client, to make sure that you and your lawyer communicate well with each other. I noticed some of these when I was carrying out research into lawyer-client communication in immigration and asylum advice settings. I observed some lawyer-client advice meetings (with the agreement of everyone present), and I also interviewed lawyers, asylum clients, organisations and interpreters about communication in asylum and refugee legal advice.
Many of the clients who kindly agreed to let me observe their advice meeting used different strategies and behaviours to support or improve their communication with their lawyer.
In the Your Legal Case page of the online Right to Remain Toolkit, the section “Communicating with your lawyer” has now been extended to include some advice and tips for ensuring better communication when you meet with your lawyer. These include what you can do to prepare for a meeting, and things to remember when you are in the meeting.
The content of this new section is set out below.
Tips for when meeting with your lawyer
- Before you go to see your lawyer for an appointment, think about what you need to tell your lawyer, and what you need to find out from them, at the meeting.
- You may want to make some notes to use as a reminder in the meeting. Or, you could ask a friend to make a list of things you want to talk about, that you can give to your lawyer in the meeting.
- Think about language beforehand. In your meeting/appointment, can you use English (or another language that you share with the lawyer) to say what you need to say, and to understand anything you need to find out? Or do you need an interpreter’s help? If you need an interpreter, make sure that your lawyer’s office knows in advance and ask them if they can provide one.
- Bring all your relevant documents with you to the meeting, including any Home Office letters or decisions. These contain information, such as the legal history of your case, that it is important for your lawyer to know about. Ask your lawyer to explain anything that you do not understand.
- In the meeting, answer any questions that your lawyer asks you honestly. It is very important that you are open with your lawyer and tell them everything that might be relevant to your case. They can help you most effectively only if they you have given them all the relevant information. Remember that what you say to your lawyer is kept confidential, and that interpreters must also respect confidentiality.
- Listen carefully to your lawyer. If you find it hard to understand them, do not be afraid to ask your lawyer to speak more slowly, or to explain something, or to say something again. It is your lawyer’s job to make sure that you understand their advice.
- If it helps you, you can ask your lawyer to write down important words or key points. You can also make notes yourself, if you want – this is not rude.
- It is important to say if you do not understand something. Your lawyer may think that you understand them if you stay silent.
- If the meeting lasts for a long time, and you get tired or start to lose concentration, you can ask for a break. When we are tired, we all find it more difficult to communicate well.
Where an interpreter is involved in the meeting:
- At the start, the interpreter should introduce him- or herself and check that you both understand each other. If you cannot understand each other, you have the right to ask for a different interpreter who speaks your language or dialect.
- Try to speak using shorter sentences, and pause regularly to allow the interpreter to translate your words.
- If the interpreter and the lawyer have a conversation with each other in English, you can ask the interpreter to tell you what they were talking about. You have the right to know what they said.
- In the same way, if you have a conversation with the interpreter in your language, the lawyer can ask the interpreter to explain what you talked about.
- If you feel uncomfortable or unhappy with the interpreter for any reason, you should tell the lawyer how you feel and ask for a different interpreter. This might happen if you think they are not translating what you or the lawyer says properly, or if you do not feel able to talk about a particular topic or event in front of them, or for another reason. It is important that you can trust your interpreter and talk freely in front of him or her.
- Before you leave the meeting, make sure that you have given your lawyer all the information you have, and all of your questions have been answered. Use the notes or list that you brought with you, if you have one.
- Also make sure that you know what the next step in your case is, and who will be taking action (you, your lawyer, the Home Office, someone else?). If you have to do something, make sure that you have all the information you need to be able to do it.
- After the meeting, your lawyer may send you a letter with a summary of what you talked about in the meeting. If you cannot read English well, tell your lawyer and ask them to write any letters in simple language.
Of course, everyone’s communication needs and skills are different, and not all of these points will apply to everybody. Hopefully, though, every individual will find at least one tip here that is useful for herself or himself.
I am very grateful to the clients who kindly allowed me to attend and observe their legal advice meetings during my research, as well as to the lawyers and interpreters who allowed me to observe meetings, and/or told me about their work in interviews. Your generosity will, I hope, mean that others can develop important communication skills that will help them to fight for the right to remain.
Funding acknowledgement: I have received funding from Research Councils UK (now UK Research and Innovation) to support my research and public engagement activities (grant references: AHRC doctoral award 1494314 and ESRC Fellowship ES/S010912/1). I gratefully acknowledge their support.
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