Staying on Track
It would have been much easier to sit back and take notes during our first meeting with Sarah, but I didn’t want to. I was so intrigued. The woman sitting in front of me had been through so much and yet, appeared strong. She was smiling. She was so excited because, after ten years, she was finally starting to feel better physically. She was guardedly enthusiastic in feeling that there might be a ray of hope for her to obtain the financial support she genuinely needs. She was so happy to have someone to talk to and to have someone listen to her story. At some points, it was hard to stay focused on the task at hand. It is moving to listen to someone’s ten-year struggle. I wanted to give Sarah a hug by the end of the meeting.
I now understand why there are ethical guidelines preventing attorneys from offering their clients financial assistance. Sitting and speaking with clients in need, like Sarah, produces a sense of urgency, and a cash band-aid may become very tempting. But, in the end, that isn’t the help that they need. They need a long-term solution… a plan.
I’ve come to realize that one must become adept at compartmentalization or separating “important” from “less important” in developing a case to present at an ALJ hearing. Attorneys that are able to effectively compartmentalize are more objective and thus better suited to help the client create a plan, and to advocate for its implementation.
Compartmentalization can be difficult to achieve and is a skill attorneys develop over time. Perhaps this is one of the reasons law students and young attorneys feel overwhelmed in their first few client meetings. Without effective compartmentalization, a green legal professional may be easily swayed and taken off track by anecdotes or other interesting aspects that are irrelevant to the case. Such a constant push and pull can be confusing and tiring. Compartmentalization allows an attorney to stay rooted to the gravamen of the case, both during the interview and after.