February 11, 2011by Brittany Hardy
Two teams from Baylor Law School will participate in the ABA Client Counseling Regional competition on Saturday, Feb. 12, in Laramie, Wyoming. The teams include Craig Stango, Michelle Hanlon, Brittney Johnson and Paul Green and student coaches Will King and Lauren Sepulveda.
The competition consists of a "client" presenting scant information about a legal problem in which he or she is involved. Due to the vagueness of most clients, the teams have to ask a variety of questions in order to find out more information and solve the problem effectively. There are three or four rounds of different facts, followed by the semi-final and final rounds.
"To prepare we basically have to make sure we read and understand The Code of Professional Responsibility, since that's this year's topic," Hanlon said.
This year the competition places a heavy emphasis on professional responsibility. All of the presented problems will involve business ethics. The competition mimics a real-life intake interview that a client would experience. The team must, therefore, make sure to discuss fees, engagement letters, conflict of interest and confidentiality.
The student coaches have come up with fact patterns that involve various issues attorneys may face as they pertain to the ABA's model professional responsibility code. These hypothetical problems may pertain to improper attorney billing practices, conflicts of interest between the attorney and the client, attorney-client privileges, etc.
"For example, I may play an attorney who has just found that my paralegal has been stealing funds of my escrow account, or I may play client who has concerns about who else my attorney is representing," King said.
The teams have been practicing by running through mock "client interviews" each day for an hour.
Members of the team sit down with the client for about 35 minutes, inform them about the nature of the meeting, and then proceed to interview the client. Once that's completed, the team must quickly identify the key issues and propose different legal and non-legal solutions to the client that can be pursued.
"Although the competition is obviously a simulation of an actual client interview, the client counseling competition tests several important skills an attorney must have in practice," King said, "Every 'client' they interview is in some ways like a walking-talking law school examination."
The team is evaluated based on the quality of advice that they are able to give to the "client."
"My team has done an outstanding job of working together and assimilating these skills," King said, "I'm very proud of the amount of work they've put in ¬- including studying professional responsibility codes, substantive and procedural law in areas they have not yet had classes in, and sitting through the lengthy critiques that I give them after every interview."