BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON THE ELCC VIDEO EDITED FROM THE 1999 INTERNATIONAL CLIENT COUNSELING COMPETITION

[NOTE: PLEASE READ BEFORE SHOWING VIDEO. THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THE VIDEO--A CLIENT WHO HAS ABDUCTED AND KILLED A CHILD--MAY OFFEND AND UPSET MANY VIEWERS.]

The Effective Lawyer-Client Communication (ELCC) project includes participants from Australia, England, India, Israel, Scotland, South Africa, and the United States and from a wide variety of disciplines. The long-term goal of the project is to determine whether international and interdisciplinary collaboration on the issue of lawyer-client communication can actually change basic institutional practices and beliefs in the legal profession. (For more information, see the ELCC web site: http://law.gsu.edu/Communication/)

The 1999 Louis M. Brown International Client Counseling Competition (ICCC) was held in Chicago, Illinois, hosted by the John Marshall Law School. The ICCC has its origin in a client counseling competition established by Professor Louis M. Brown in Los Angeles in 1969 that was later adopted by the American Bar Association as a national event in 1972. The international competition began in 1985 and now involves law schools from Australia, Canada, Eire, England, Grand Caymans, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the United States and Wales. The executive chairperson of the ICCC Board is Forrest S. Mosten, Mosten & Tuffias, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. (mosten@mediate.com) (fax: 310-473-7422).

At the 1999 competition, after two preliminary rounds, three teams advanced to the finals: the United States, South Africa and India. Each team of two students interviewed a professional actor who played the same client role following detailed instructions prepared by the competition committee. The only information the teams had prior to the interview was: "You have an appointment with Sam Phillips, who has some questions about a story about a missing child that appeared in the newspapers a couple of months ago." Each team was limited to 30 minutes for the actual interview, during which time they were expected to learn why the client wished to see them and to provide preliminary advice and counseling. The interview was conducted in an auditorium before an international panel of judges and an audience consisting largely of the other student teams and their coaches.

I was present in the audience, having been invited to make a presentation about the ELCC project to the ICCC Board. I also had served as a judge for the preliminary rounds. As I watched the final round, I was particularly impressed by the effectiveness of the winning team, which conducted what I thought was one of the finest simulated client interviews I had ever seen. I obtained a copy of the videotape and written permission from all six students appearing on the tape to use an edited version for teaching and discussion purposes.

The edited video begins by presenting the opening of each interview, in the order in which the teams competed. Each segment contains introductory remarks and questions and then the first eight minutes of the substantive interview, measured from a question typically phrased as something like "What can we do for you?" or "What brings you here today?" The person watching the video is asked to write down for each interview three words: (1) describing the lawyers, (2) describing the client, and (3) describing the overall feeling of the interview so far. The watcher is also asked to guess which team won. After indicating which team won and presenting some simple analysis and comparative information, the video continues by following the winning team's interview to completion, pausing at points to insert segments from the other teams for comparison. ELCC hired a court reporting company to transcribe the interviews and caption the video with the transcription, thus enabling close analysis by pausing the videotape at any point.

Soon after completing the edited version I showed it at the 1999 Midwest Clinical Teachers Conference, held at the University of Wisconsin; at the Train the Trainers Workshop which was part of the inaugural conference of the Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE), held in Trivandrum, India in December 1999; and also at my own law school at the time (Washington University in St. Louis) at an orientation session for students interested in participating in our intra-school client counseling competition.

When I presented the video at the 1999 GAJE conference, I had hoped to receive comments and suggestions from the distinguished international group gathered there that would give the guide a strong cross-cultural perspective. However, the GAJE workshop did not go as planned because a number of participants had a very strong, negative reaction to the subject matter of the video after viewing the first 30 minutes. Therefore, the balance of the workshop was devoted to discussing the teaching and ethical problems created by using the abuse of children as the context for an interviewing simulation. As a result of this discussion I was left with deep reservations about whether the video should be used further by the ELCC project. However, a significant number of people at the workshop also asked for copies of the video and have subsequently indicated to me that they have used for teaching purposes. I also had a list of persons from the Mid-West Clinical Teachers Conference who had asked for copies. I was aware that a number of American teachers asking for the video planned to use it in preparing students from their schools for 2000 Client Counseling Competition and therefore felt out of fairness that I should make it available upon request to clinical teachers generally by notice on the internet listserve LawClinic (and did so prior to preparing this memo because the regional competitions would be taking place soon.)

I then discussed with a faculty colleague at Washington University who was the advisor for our client counseling competition whether to show the video as part of our orientation for intramural part of the competition. She wanted me to show the video which I did after first telling the students about the problematic subject matter. My own reservations about the video increased after that showing, in part because a number of students (in a group larger than 100) laughed at some of the more shocking statements by the client. As I commented to the students afterwards, perhaps such laughter was a release of tension, but nonetheless troubling. On the other hand, my colleague thought the video was a very useful introduction to the relevant issues for client counseling. When I asked her again about the problematic subject matter, her response (which she said I could include in this memo) was: "With respect to the subject matter, I tried to watch the audience to gauge their reaction. A few looked rather uncomfortable, but most seemed to take it in stride. While another subject matter would perhaps be better for a teaching tool, I certainly think providing students with examples of actual client interviews from the competition is a valuable tool, the objectionable content of the interview notwithstanding."

For those who wish to use the 1999 video, I do recommend viewing it yourself in advance to showing it to a group and if you then decide to use it in a group setting that you warn people in advance about the subject matter.

This video has now been converted to DVD format and was used in May 2007 at a workshop on clinical teaching methods for 35 law teachers in India and most of those law teachers have requested copies for possible use in their own schools.

I welcome comments and suggestions and am particularly interested in collecting insights from those who do use the video in some way.

Clark D. Cunningham
Director of the Effective Lawyer-Client Communication Project
and

W. Lee Burge Professor of Law and Ethics
Georgia State University College of Law
P.O. Box 4037
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
Phone: (404) 413-9168
Fax: (404) 413-9225
Email: cdcunningham@gsu.edu
Home Page: http://law.gsu.edu/ccunningham/