Dealing with the public
All dealings between law centre staff and members of the public must be conducted, at all times, with courtesy and respect. Staff must be polite at all times and must have regard to the possibility that applicants and clients may be extremely nervous when visiting or contacting the law centre and may have had no previous contact with the legal system or with solicitors. Staff must also keep in mind that most of the Board’s clients will be going through extremely difficult personal experiences in their lives and will be going through a period of unhappiness and vulnerability. Reception/front line staff should adopt a positive atmosphere when dealing with the public.
Law centre staff will, from time to time, have to deliver bad news to an applicant/client (that the matter they are applying for falls outside the remit of the Board, that they are financially ineligible, or that an application for a legal aid certificate has been refused). At such times the applicant/client should be treated in a sensitive manner and advised of their options (other methods of help available, review/appeal procedures, etc). Should the applicant/client become angry, the staff member must remain polite and calm at all times. More information on dealing with clients is contained later in this chapter.
All calls to the law centre should be answered promptly and courteously. Calls should be answered according the procedures in Chapter 2.
If you are unable to deal with the subject matter immediately, you must take the appropriate details from the caller and undertake to return their call. In certain circumstances it may be appropriate to transfer the caller to someone else in the law centre. If it is not immediately possible to transfer the caller to the staff member who can best deal with the issue, you should take the appropriate details from the caller and make arrangements for the appropriate staff member to return the call at the earliest possible time. On occasion law centres will have applicant / clients who make frequent calls about their case. In those circumstances law centres may refer to the parameters set out in the client’s letter of engagement, or a solicitor may set out parameters to the applicant / client for making calls.
All letters sent to the Board's offices must be replied to promptly and within the following deadlines:
- an interim response should be issued, where necessary, within seven (7) working days of receipt of correspondence, and;
- a substantive response must be issued to all correspondence within fifteen (15) working days, this is conditional on the timely receipt of information and instructions where appropriate.
There may also be situations where clients or indeed other solicitors may write letters without there being a need to do so or without their serving a particular purpose. In those circumstances law centres may set out parameters for responding to correspondence. By way of example, an opposing solicitor may attempt to engage in ongoing and frequent correspondence about the minutiae of access arrangements. The appropriate response may be to indicate that these are matters for the parties or the court to determine.
Consideration should also be given to the possibility of requiring an applicant not to attend at the centre and to communicate by correspondence only until such time as the law centre determines otherwise. The Board must be mindful that it must act within its power to facilitate applications for legal services being made and services being appropriately given, however the safety and welfare of staff is paramount and an applicant is not entitled to services at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of staff.
Occasionally, a law centre may find itself the recipient of constant email correspondence from a person who is not in receipt of legal services nor is the subject of an application for legal services. The person should be advised, via email from the managing solicitor, to desist from further correspondence with the law centre in the absence of an application for legal services being submitted.
Where correspondence continues to be received, the managing solicitor should advise the person that the next step will be to have their email address blocked by the Board’s IT system (and should correspondence continue further, the managing solicitor should make contact with the Director of Civil Legal Aid with a view to organising this).
Terminating a call from an angry or abusive caller
You should, in the normal instance, wait for the caller to hang up before hanging up on external callers.
In the event that the caller becomes angry or abusive, the following procedure should apply:
Procedure 7.1 – Dealing with an abusive or angry caller
- Remain calm at all times and do not return the abuse or anger or otherwise respond.
- Advise the caller that if they do not cease the abusive behaviour, the call will be terminated.
- In the event the behaviour continues, warn the caller that you are about to terminate the call. If it persists, hang up.
- If the caller is a client, create an attendance record and detail the caller’s behaviour.
- Inform the solicitor dealing with the file.
If the caller is an applicant or has not yet been assigned to a solicitor, place a memo on the application file and inform your managing solicitor.
Avoid terminating a call without warning.
If the caller is a client, inform the solicitor dealing with the file