File review process
- Primary responsibility for the provision of a professional and timely service lies with the individual solicitor to whom the case is assigned;
- primary responsibility for managing the risk of providing an inadequate and unprofessional service lies with the solicitor to whom the case is assigned, through, for example, regular case file reviews, and providing the required case status returns and declarations in accordance with the Circular on the matter;
- the primary responsibility for appraising the performance of solicitors in a law centre lies with the managing solicitor of that law centre;
- the primary responsibility for appraising the performance of managing solicitors in law centres lies with the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager ;
- to assure performance to the satisfaction of the Board, reviews of the documented aspects of the legal service provided will be carried out in an appropriate manner, as set out in this document and having regard to the requirements of effective oversight and confidentiality;7
- for the purpose of this structured system of file reviews, ‘file review’ means that a reviewer, as set out below, shall be entitled to have full access to the case file and sight of all such necessary documents as to enable that reviewer carry out the review process;
- expert or welfare reports directed to be procured by the court in family law cases, such as section 47 reports, will not be reviewed or examined as part of this process (in the light of the obiter dicta of Ms Justice Laffoy) and any such report should be identified by the solicitor with conduct of the file beforehand and placed in an envelope on the file;
- a review should take place with each solicitor on an annual basis;
- reviews will be carried out in the law centre on the basis of the relevant checklist available on the bulletin board and at appendix C. The checklists, which should be completed, are benchmarked against the Board’s best practice guidelines, and take full account of the need for effective risk management. In the event that no checklist is available for the case type, a short note should be done on a separate page setting out the pertinent facts and time-lines on the case;
- all personal injury and other files involving statutory deadlines will be reviewed;
- initially five files that commenced four or more years prior to the review will be reviewed;
if the reviewer considers that there is an element of systematic delay that is not warranted by the circumstances of the case a further seven files that commenced four or more years prior to the review will be reviewed;
- a minimum of five other files, selected at random, will be reviewed;
- a written report will be prepared on the reviews in the format set out on the bulletin board under ‘Procedures’ and a copy furnished to the relevant solicitor;
- copies of the checklists, together with a copy of the review report, should be furnished to the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager ;
- in the event that the reviewer considers that a file review identifies areas of concern, the reviewer will identify those concerns to the solicitor and every effort should be made by the solicitor to address those concerns within an agreed timeframe. (Such concerns could include, among other things, a failure to proactively manage files giving rise to undue delay, a failure to communicate with clients, and a failure to record and manage information on the file appropriately). The reviewer should monitor on a regular basis whether the concerns are being addressed by the solicitor. If the concerns are not being addressed, the solicitor should be so informed in writing and the concerns must be brought to the attention of the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager. It will be a matter for the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager , in consultation with the reviewer, to determine whether a more comprehensive review of case files should take place;
- in the event that the file reviews identify areas of major concern, the reviewer should identify those concerns to the solicitor in writing and the concerns must be brought to the attention of the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager immediately. The Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager , in consultation with the reviewer, will determine whether a more comprehensive review of case files should take place. The solicitor, the subject of the review, will be notified in writing in advance of the review and of the major concerns giving rise to it;
- it is imperative that any file that constitutes a professional negligence risk be brought to the attention of the Director of Civil Legal Aid immediately.
- the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager will review a proportion of the case files that have been reviewed and the Report of File Reviews completed by managing solicitors. In the event that the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager is not satisfied that the review has taken place or has taken place in accordance with the agreed procedures, or if it becomes apparent that this review identifies major concerns that should have been brought to the attention of the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager by the managing solicitor on foot of the original review, the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager will determine whether a standard review in accordance with the process herein, or a more comprehensive review, of the solicitor’s case files be undertaken by the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager. A more comprehensive review will have no restriction on the number of files reviewed. The solicitor the subject of the review will be notified in writing in advance of the review and, if relevant, of the major concerns giving rise to it.
- fair procedures will apply at all stages of the process, as will any relevant provisions of the Industrial Relations Recognition and Procedures Agreement between the Legal Aid Board and Unite and SIPTU.
A solicitor who considers that a particular file in respect of which access is being sought contains material of an unusually sensitive nature may advise the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager of this fact. If, following consultation between the solicitor and the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager, the latter considers that a review of the file is still essential to enable the Board to discharge its functions and duties under the Act, the review of the file, will be facilitated.
In relation to private practitioners the above procedure may be followed with relevant adaptations. In particular the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Assistant Director or other relevant staff member nominated by the Director of Civil Legal Aid will be substituted for the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager.