Document Type


Publication Date



This article concerns the important issues of access to justice and practical lawyering skills. Clients are representing themselves in family law matters in ever increasing numbers. Courts, bar groups, nonprofits and law schools have responded by offering “brief advice” clinics. How well these clinics operate can significantly influence the public’s access to justice. This article analyses actual consultations in a brief advice clinic relying upon transcriptions of recordings and using conversation analysis techniques. This analysis demonstrates that the matters brought to the clinic are not “simple” ones where legal representation is not needed. These clients are facing serious problems from domestic violence, to abandonment, to denial of visitation, and they have many questions and strong feelings about their circumstances. Fortunately, experienced attorneys who specialize in family law are able to analyze these matters and provide strategic, personalized counseling and relevant information. Unfortunately, these lawyers often rush to provide information they believe will be helpful before they fully understand the client’s situation and goals. These volunteer attorneys are motivated to share all they know, and sometimes flood these clients with information. The clients, in turn, strive to share their stories and rationales, even when the lawyers would prefer to review their papers and ask them yes/no questions. The result is that both attorneys and clients may feel they are drinking from a fire hose. The article carefully analyzes the successes and failures in these consultations and concludes by outlining best practices for interviewing and counseling in a brief advice clinic.