“We don’t learn from talking; we learn from listening.”

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The trip to Cherokee did not disappoint. It was everything that I expected plus more. Not only did I learn a lot about client interaction but I also took away some general life lessons. On the second day of the Cherokee trip, we held a Wills Clinic at Tsali Manor. Here, we would assist Cherokee residents in drafting wills, power of attorney documents, and advance directives. Initially, I was very nervous. I am a 1L and I had never drafted a legal document nor had I interacted with a client. I was also very uncomfortable speaking about one’s last wishes before death. From personal experience, I knew this could be an emotional topic for families, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on such a difficult task.


As the day went by, my partner and I patiently waited for our first client. Our first two clients did not need any documents drafted that day; however, we were able to provide them with information and send them off knowing how to draft a will when they were ready. Although we had not actually drafted any documents yet, it was gratifying to empower someone with knowledge. Towards the end of the day, we had our last client. They were a couple from Cherokee looking to draft a will. At this point, my partner and I were ready to get to work. We had been reviewing the documents all day, and we were confident that this would be a smooth and quick process. However, we were in for a big surprise!


Our case turned out not to be simple. It was far from the “cookie-cutter” scenario that we had prepared for! The couple had some family issues and wanted to ensure that one family member did not get any of their estate. It was during the discussion of this matter that I really connected with our clients. We had something in common that was normally difficult for me to talk about, but I could tell that our clients needed some comfort and reassurance. Once I shared my similar life experience, their eyes up and we both loosened up. It was then that I realized that I wanted to create this rapport and bond with every client that I ever interact with. It makes the experience so much more meaningful.


During the time with our client, there were times when I felt myself getting frustrated. The documents were very tedious and we made several mistakes in our first draft. It took my partner and I about three different copies to perfect the will. We actually stayed about 45 minutes later than the rest of the group to ensure that the will was perfect and legally acceptable. Thankfully, our clients were very patient and understanding, which made the experience pleasurable. As I frantically ran back and forth to the printer, I was greeted with a gracious smile each time that I brought a draft back to our clients. It was a reminder that as an attorney, people will be depending on you. Even when things get tough, never let them see you sweat. Clients are trusting us with very important legal matters so it is important to remain positive and confident in your abilities.


On day three, we held a simple divorce and expunction clinic at the Yellowhill Community Center. I didn’t really know what to expect on this day, but I was more excited about the possibility of clearing someone’s criminal record than I was about filing divorces. However, I did not end up getting the opportunity to complete an expunction. My first and only client on this day was at the clinic for a divorce. Our client shared a lot of information about himself, his advanced education, his children, and his long marriage. What he shared next, I could never have prepared for. On the verge of tears, he explained to us that he had been recently diagnosed with cancer. He went on to say that he didn’t have much longer to live, so he wanted things to end peacefully. Things had been rough between he and his wife for a while now, and they decided that they could fight this battle together better as friends.


This is where I almost lost it…gulping back my tears, I told him that I was sorry and then there was pause. I didn’t really know what else to say. I just listened. I listened to him tell me his fears. I listened to him express how heartbroken that he was. I just listened. Finally, when I felt strong enough to speak again. I told him that everything would be ok. He then asked “why?”. I wasn’t prepared to explain, but I was compelled to tell him about my own life experience with a loved one being sick. I went on to tell him about my grandmother and all she had survived through. By the end of my story, he reached and held my hand and said “thank you.” At that moment I knew that I had made a difference, even if we weren’t able to complete the divorce paperwork that day, at least I had given him hope. It was bittersweet to see him walk away. He was eligible to file a simple divorce, so I am glad that we were able to meet his legal needs. But, I couldn’t give him what he really wanted, which was his wife and good health.


I reflected a lot that night and I learned that you can learn so much from listening. Every client has a story to tell. Listen before you speak. 

Posted by Joscelyn Solomon on Thu. January 5, 2017 2:00 PM
Categories: Winter Break Trip 2016
UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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