Keeva on Life and Practice

Compassionate Checklist


Even the partial list that follows is quite long. But it gets the point across: Your choices are limited only by your imag­ination. Look at your interactions, and see where you can open them up, illuminate motivation, seek direction or find com­mon ground. Certain questions may bring key issues to the fore.

At the Initial Meeting

Why has the client come? Is he driven by?

• Anger?

• A sense of having been victimized?

• A desire to heal?

What does he expect of me?

What role does he want me to take?

What are my first impressions?

Am I listening as if he is the only other person on earth at the moment?

Have I turned off the phone or made arrangements for someone else to answer?

Am I seeing the whole person or focusing narrowly on the possible legal issues?

Am I saying what I need to say to the client, or am I avoiding something?

Are my words consistent with my values?

Have I made clear what I see as both his and my own role(s) in this relationship?

Have I made clear where my loyalties lie–to him, yes, but perhaps also to minimizing conflict, to the other side or to the community?

Have I been clear about the range of options, both legal and nonlegal, that may be available?

Have I withheld any information that may be relevant? (If so, why? Whose interests am I serving by doing so?)

After the Initial Interview

Have I been clear so far about what I see as the merits and deficiencies in the case the client thinks he has?

Does the client seem open to striving for a win/win solution?

What might such a solution look like in this case? (Even better, ask the client this.) Is he willing to take any responsibility for the problem? If he is willing to forgo the role of victim, what opportunities does that open up?

Can he admit that there were things he could have done that might have prevented the current problem? If so, can he take an active role in resolving it?

Does the client appear to need permission to let go of his anger, and would he accept that permission from me?

How attached is the client to winning? Would anything short of it be interpreted as success?

What would it mean to me to win this case?

Is the client deluding himself about any aspect of the case?

What might be the best way to start a dialogue?

What ways of looking at this case might locate deeper meanings and broader implications? For example, are there family implications that may at first not be apparent? Community issues? Spiritual issues for the client? How might these implications matter?

Have I made it clear enough that I consider this relationship:

• Important to me?

• Worthy of my time?

• Not only a legal but also a human partnership?

• A collaboration in which we each have much to contribute?

With Opposing Counsel

Am I being honest and forthright?

Am I letting his words or behavior:

• Get the better of me?

• Be an excuse for behaving without integrity?

• Make me react unmindfully?

Am I taking his words or tactics personally?

Am I behaving with integrity?

If It Goes to Court

Am I doing all I can to minimize harm to my client?

Am I showing respect for the humanity of the other side, regardless of their brutishness? Am I striving to help my client maintain the highest degree of consciousness regarding both the legal and the psychological/emotional dimensions of the case?

Am I being sensitive to opportunities to minimize suffering?

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, only to suggest your choices to make, which, in the aggregate, can reflect deeply held spiritual as well as intellectual and ethical values. This can make your relationships much richer and more fulfilling than you might have thought possible.


Steven Keeva, an assistant managing editor, is the author of Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life, from which this month’s column is excerpted.


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