The 4th edition of Fatal Accidents was published last week.  The publishers, Lexis Nexis, have several copies they can give away.  I am looking for contributions (here or on Twitter) as to the most useful things that lawyers can know, and do, when dealing with the bereaved client.


This is a serious subject. I am not suggesting that it can be addressed fully or adequately in a short online contributions. However want I want to do is, at the very least, to start a conversation and get people thinking about these issues.  They are rarely, if ever, addressed in legal education or training.


When the book was first designed there was to be a contribution from an experienced bereavement counsellor who had worked with me on APIL courses on fatal accidents.  Unfortunately she got ill and was not able to contribute. I am using this as an opportunity to fill the missing chapters.


I am deliberately not referring to a winner, because I anticipate that all contributions will be useful.  I will ask someone with experience of these issues to choose the one they personally feel is most useful.  This is, I appreciate, a highly subjective approach.  However this is really a case where the taking part and contributing is (I hope) the most important element.


Either respond to the blog here, or make a contribution on Twitter, just make sure you copy/link me to the tweet (@CivLitTweet).  Contributions can be short, long, and deal with any issue you wish. The essential element is informing lawyers of the matters they need to know, and consider, when dealing with clients who have been bereaved.

I should make it clear that I am not looking here, necessarily, for advice on legal issues. Advice on how the client is feeling; what to do (and what not to do); matters that will help the client are all welcome.  Remember many lawyers may have no, or very little, experience of bereavement and grief, any words you have could be of great assistance.


It would be helpful if all contributions could be here by 8.00 pm on Tuesday 16th July.



I will put up a separate post with the contributions. In the interim I’ll keep a list of contributions here.

Tell the client as early as you can that given the choice between money and a magic wand, nobody would choose money, but it’s all that you’ve got, it won’t bring them back, and it’s about trying to safeguard their future, not the past, which they will do for themselves.

Be absolutely honest about what the litigation process can achieve – this may not match the client’s key objective. e.g. an apology, answers/an explanation or striking off/sacking a doctor.

Be honest and open from the outset, make it clear what can be achieved and what cant. Explain time frames and that it wont be easy as they have to relive everything over and over again. Compassion but also distance/separation from the client emotionally is needed.

So true. Honesty, boundaries, being able to detach with compassion from troubled clients is vital. Also, crucial is knowing the factors that can make you vulnerable to secondary trauma; plus what could trigger and re-traumatise the client. The legal process is rife with them.

Be kind & patient! Be very succinct about All & Any outcomes they can expect… Remember: It’s easy to identify with the client at a very sad time, but they are there for your “legal advice”… Draw attention to your advice in writing to aid absorption…

Someone told me once that a lawyer’s role is simply to “give advice kindly”, even more important with bereavement. Small things make a big difference: check client is supported before giving negative advice; make meetings less ‘lawyery’; listen, more often than not noone else has

Matthew Heap

I think it’s so important to forewarn your client that regardless of the mode of settlement (RTM, Mediation, Trial or by simple negotiations) and notwithstanding the fact that the counter Schedule should and almost always will begin with an apology, the other side will fight quantum tooth and nail. It will feel personal and incredibly offensive, particularly if they are questioning the qualities / prospects of your loved one. This is the trickiest part of looking after your client in these cases and discussing it early on and repeating it as matters progress really help

Above all, they want to understand what happened to their loved one. Irrespective of reaction type, tears, anger, coldness, the need for facts and understanding is always there.

Understand the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, and within your professional code, contextualise the instructions as to where they are. When they’re in anger and denial, give them space to reflect on instructions. Be clear that law and morality are not always on the same page.

Have empathy, but try to stay the ‘right’ side of the professional line. Know how to sign post to services. Know when a welfare check is needed and how to get one done. Explain the confines of your role, kindly. Be an ear when they need one.
Understand there will be days (and perhaps weeks) when they really honestly and truly cannot deal with you, or the case, and if at all possible, understand and give them the time.
Understand they may be moderating themselves with you depending on their age/class/personality etc, and go the extra mile to understand who your client actually is.
Understand they may be moderating themselves with you depending on their age/class/personality etc, and go the extra mile to understand who your client actually is.