Releasing a law centre file to a client or a private solicitor
A request for the release of a law centre file must be made in writing. If made by a solicitor on behalf of a former client, it must enclose a duly signed authority of the former client.
On receiving the appropriate request for the release of a file, the file should be reviewed by the assigned solicitor/managing solicitor, as appropriate. The portion of the file to be released is to be determined by the reviewer in accordance with paragraph 7.6 of the Law Society of Ireland’s Guide to Professional Conduct of Solicitors in Ireland, which includes the extract below, and also having regard to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2014:-
“Once the fees and outlays of the first solicitor have been paid, the file belongs to the client. The file transferred should include instructions, briefs, copies of correspondence written to third parties and documents prepared by third parties for the benefit of the client. Any item which deals with the substance of the matter and which would assist the new solicitor should be included. Certain papers belong to the previous solicitor and may be retained by him. These include letters, papers and documents prepared by that solicitor for his own benefit and for which he has not charged and does not intend to charge the client.”
The provisions of the Freedom of Information Act essentially give a client (or an applicant) a right to be given most, if not all, of the documents or records in the Board’s possession that relate to them. Having regard to both the Law Society’s guidelines and the Freedom of Information legislation, the general approach should be to give to a requesting solicitor (or a client) all of the material on the client file. If there is documentation on the file that has been obtained conditionally it may be necessary to seek authority from the creator or sender of such documents to pass them to a new solicitor. It may also be necessary to require the new solicitor to undertake to meet certain conditions in relation to the documentation before it is released to the solicitor e.g, that they will not provide copies of it to the client.
Documentation which is to be released to a private solicitor should be photocopied and the copies retained in the law centre. This applies regardless of whether the file is an open file or a closed one. (There is however no need to copy the file this where the file is being passed to another law centre).
If a file is still active when a request is made, the issue of costs owing to the Board must be addressed. In such circumstances, the file is not to be released until an undertaking in writing has been furnished by the requesting solicitor or client. A model form of undertaking is illustrated below.