DEALING WITH BEREAVED CLIENTS: A DEFICIT IN LEGAL TRAINING?
I was lecturing yesterday alongside an oncologist. He has a difficult job. On a regular (sometimes daily) basis he has to tell patients whether they can be treated, how long they “have left” and whether treatment is worthwhile. This left the lawyers in the room to consider their own position.
One question I asked him was – “How are you trained to do that?” It is obviously extremely difficult and requires considerable skill – are doctors left to their own devices?
We can be comforted by the fact that the reply was there are communication courses that doctors attend. Also they have the opportunity to work alongside, and see, the best practice of their colleagues.
SO WHO TRAINS US?
The room was full of very experienced clinical negligence lawyers. A poll of everyone present showed that not one had had any training or instruction in how to deal with the bereaved client, or the terminally ill. Very few had the opportunity to see how their colleagues deal with these issues.
If time had allowed I suspect we all would have welcomed more specific instruction. A solicitor faced with a bereaved family, or terminally ill client, is effectively left to their own devices.
A MAJOR GAP IN OUR TRAINING
Several years ago when I ran the Fatal Accident course for APIL I arranged for a specialist bereavement counsellor to be an integral part of the day. Her involvement was always welcomed by lawyers. It led to some of the most interesting, and compelling, discussions I have seen amongst legal professionals.It is an area where lawyers receive no training at all. Often we tip-toe around key subjects, wary of making matters worse. Sometimes we do make matters worse. Here are links to useful sources on dealing with bereaved people.
I am not going to attempt to summarise the detailed guidance we received. There are some useful links and guides that assist.
SPECIFIC GUIDANCE FOR PROFESSIONALS DEALING WITH BEREAVED CLIENTS
- Belfast Trust has written a useful and extensive guide Dealing with Traumatic Bereavement
- Chris Blunt: After the loss of a spouse: five pointed for helping grieving clients
- Very useful guidance from the Centre for Grief Journey on Helping a Grieving Client (see in particular the list of things not to say)
- Mark Tyrell on Three vital pointers for helping clients with grief
- The College of Education at Penn State on Helping Clients Deal with Grief and Loss
GUIDANCE FOR EMPLOYERS DEALING WITH BEREAVEMENT
- ACAS on Managing Bereavement in the Workplace – a good Practice Guide
- Cruse Bereavement Care on Managing Bereavement at Work
- ACAS more general guide to Bereavement in the Workplace (with further useful links).
- NHS Choices on Dealing with Loss
- Facing Bereavement on dealing with death through accidents
- Psychlinks on Grief and Bereavement in accident or sudden death
- Loss, change and grief on dealing with sudden, accidental or traumatic death