Remember your last visit to the doctor’s office? Or, maybe even worse, the hospital? I remember almost all of my hospital visits and the people who took care of me while I was there (the doctor’s icy cold hands; the nurse’s persistent and reassuring smile; or, how my orthodontist always called me “sport” or “tiger” because he can’t remember my name). These things are just small parts of the patient experience, but they are important. I am sure we all can recall some parts of our patient experience, whether positive or negative. This, in turn, gives us patient perspective. But what about client perspective?
Compared to other professions, most law students, I think, may have a disadvantage: lack of client perspective. By client perspective, I mean that most law students do not or have not required legal services. Compare this to, say, medical students or nursing students. Everyone has, for one reason or another, visited a hospital, met with a doctor, or required the services of a nurse. Although the experience of requiring medical care is usually negative, it provides perspective: patient perspective. That is, anyone can identify what traits make a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider “good” or “bad” because they know from first-hand experience. This, in my opinion, gives med students/nursing students (or other healthcare providers) an advantage. Because they were, at one time a patient, they can tailor their study of medicine to their patient experience and, hopefully, incorporate traits that they favored in their doctor/nurse into their own practice. This would, in theory, create a better patient experience for their future patients.
Of course, I am speaking from my own fortunate experience and I may be wrong, but I am assuming that most law students haven’t actually had to use an attorney. In fact, law students have great incentive to avoid legal problems at all costs (character and fitness!). Maybe law schools and summer internships can fill the void of client perspective to some degree? We can talk about what makes a happy client in the classroom. We can watch our mentors or summer employers work with clients and emulate their practice. But, I think, most law students do not and will not ever actually step in the shoes of a the client by being a client.
I am not saying that pre-law/law students should go out and commit crimes to achieve solidarity with future clients, but perhaps there is a way law schools could further help future attorneys understand the client point-of-view. Then again, one could, in theory, never go to a hospital and still understand what bedside manner makes a good physician. Perhaps, in the same way, positive “desk-side” manner can also be learned or realized without actually stepping into the client’s shoes.
Regardless, law schools should strive to better prepare their students to understand the needs of the client because, as a veteran lawyer once told me, the client is the number one priority.