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Offering appointments to applicants

We aspire to ensure that all financially eligible applicants for legal services receive a first consultation with a solicitor within a month of their application. Certain matters are prioritised and will be given the earliest possible appointment with a solicitor (Chapter 3). The remainder of applicants remain on the applications record until an appointment with a solicitor can be given, by reference to their date of complete application (the date the milestone “Application updated from an enquiry to a specific case type” in APP001 is marked Complete).

It is not necessary for an applicant to have a first consultation in the law centre prior to being referred to a private practitioner. That being the case, the applicant having received a first consultation is not a bar on the law centre subsequently referring the case to a private practitioner.

Offering first consultations

  • Applicants for priority matters should be offered first consultations ahead of all other applicants on the applications record; and
  • Applicants within the same priority class should be offered first consultations based on their date that their application was completed (i.e. the “Date Financially Eligible” on the Applications Record – First Consultation report).

Not every applicant may be able to travel to the law centre for the purpose of a triage appointment, e.g. they may be in a nursing home or in prison.  Efforts should be made to see such persons in accordance with the procedure herein, however, there may need to be some relaxation on the time limit of one month.  It is acknowledged that depending on the ease of access to the person, e.g. if they are in prison, it may not be practical to provide a triage or advice appointment in person and it may be more appropriate to offer the service by telephone. 

All law centres are required to use the standard letter on the next page for the purpose of offering an applicant a first consultation.  This sets out clearly the arrangements for the provision of this service and the nature and extent of the service being offered.  This letter must not be amended without prior reference to the Director of Civil Legal Aid.

Offering a first consultation by telephone

In certain circumstances, a solicitor can conduct the first consultation by telephone.

You can offer a telephone first consultation, with the approval of the solicitor with conduct of the file (or if a solicitor has yet to be assigned, with the approval of your managing solicitor) in the following circumstances

  • where a limitation period is about to expire and instructions need to be taken as soon as possible in relation to instituting proceedings
  • where the applicant is defending already instituted proceedings with an imminent  pending court date.
  • where the applicant  indicates that they are unable to attend the law centre on the first consultation date offered
  • applicants who cancel appointments (but only in the circumstances outlined later on in this Chapter)
  • applicants to Law Centre (Montague Court) who are not based in Dublin or the surrounding counties.
  • where the applicant is in a nursing home
  • where the applicant is in prison

Where it is intended to offer the applicant a first consultation by telephone the administrative procedures attaching to face to face consultations should be adhered to as much as possible, in particular the legal aid contribution should be paid using the electronic payment procedure (see  page  above) if the contribution has not already been paid.

APP003.Offer first consultation appointment
APP003.First Consultation workflow

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

Mr John Smith                                                  

1 Main Street, Ballymore

Co. Dublin                                                                                                        1st June 2016

RE: LEGAL SERVICES – PLEASE READ CAREFULLY 

 Dear Mr Smith,

I refer to your application for legal services dated ___________.  Based on the information you have provided, you have been deemed financially eligible for legal services.  This does not necessarily mean that a solicitor will act for you  in court proceedings as this will also depend on the merits of the case. 

We are in a position to offer you an appointment with a solicitor [on _________ at _________.  Please telephone the law centre at ____________   by ______________ to confirm your attendance.]

 OR

 [Please telephone the law centre at _______________ to organise the exact time and date of your appointment].

If we do not hear from you within ten days of the date of this letter then we will assume you are no longer in need of legal services. This does not prevent you re-applying at a later date. 

[Your legal advice contribution will be  € ___ which is payable at the time of this  consultation.  You may pay your contribution by cash, bank draft, or credit/debit card. Should it be necessary to bring legal proceedings, and if you are granted a legal aid certificate, your legal aid contribution will be €   , which is payable on acceptance of the certificate.  Your solicitor will discuss this further with you at your consultation.] 

It is very important that you notify the law centre immediately of any changes in relation to your address or your means. For your information I also enclose a letter outlining our  standard terms and conditions of engagement. I also enclose a fact-gathering sheet which you should complete and return to us prior to your appointment. The information collected will assist the solicitor in preparing for your appointment.

[(For persons applying for legal services in relation to personal injuries or medical negligence) I note that you have applied for legal services in relation to [medical negligence] [negligence/assault resulting in personal injuries]. When we placed you on our applications record we advised you to consult with two private solicitors to ask them to take on your case on a “no win no fee” basis. You should bring evidence that you have done so and they have declined to take on your case on that basis. If you do not do so the solicitor will still see you and give you advice however any future application for authority to represent you in Court may be accompanied by a recommendation that it be refused under section 28(4)(a) of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 on the grounds that  you could obtain the cost of the proceedings the subject matter of the application from another source.]

We will continue to process your application even if you fail to provide these letters.  If you do not provide us with them, however, this may be a reason for refusing you legal aid.

Please note law centre staff are not in a position to supervise children who accompany applicants / clients to the law centre.  It is therefore advisable to make alternative arrangements for children who require supervision.  If you have any questions in relation to any of the above please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

_____________
Jane Jones

Law Centre (Insert)

The precedent letter of engagement below must be sent with the above letter. The letter of engagement may not be altered without the prior consent of the Director of Civil Legal Aid.

APP003.Letter of Engagement
APP003.First Consultation workflow

LETTER OF ENGAGEMENT

Terms and conditions

[Date]

Dear [applicant’s name],

We look forward to seeing you at this Law Centre for an appointment shortly. This letter explains our terms and conditions while we are working for you. It is important that you know what to expect and understand what our service involves. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have when we meet.

1. Your application and what we will provide

The services we provide are restricted to what is contained in your application form. You may have to make a new application if you require legal services for another matter.

In your application form you have confirmed certain matters, including your financial circumstances, and you must tell the Board of any change in those circumstances. It is important to tell us of any change in your financial circumstances as soon as you become aware of this as such a change may impact on either (1) the ability of the Legal Aid Board to continue to provide legal services to you or (2) the amount of the contribution that you have to pay to the Legal Aid Board for the service being provided to you.

2. Early appointment

We aim to provide you with an appointment with a solicitor within a period of 6 weeks of your completed application. There are occasions when you might have to wait a bit longer for that appointment, due to demands on our service, but we will let you know if this is the case. At this appointment the solicitor will give you legal advice about your problem.  We will write to you after this appointment and let you have a note of the advice given to you on that occasion. However, because of the level of demand for services at the Law Centre, it may be some time before we can offer you a further appointment or provide legal representation to you in relation to any court proceedings.

3. Discussing your expectations

We will discuss your expectations and tell you whether we think they are realistic. After you have met a solicitor and it is decided that you need a further appointment, it is important to us that you understand what is happening in your case and we will keep you informed as your case progresses. We will also explain to you the reason for any delays that may occur. Delays may occur for reasons that are beyond our control.

4. Giving instructions

It is important that you give us clear and accurate instructions from the very beginning.  Once we are able to give you a continuing service (if one is required) we will do our best to carry out the agreed instructions and to give you a professional service and help you resolve your problems.

When we receive your instructions, we will explain your legal options to you. If there is anything you do not understand, please tell us right away so that we can answer your questions. We will then agree with you how best to proceed.

We may need to update your instructions from time to time, for example if:

- new issues or information arise;

- events take an unexpected turn; or

- we need more information from you.

5. Contacts between you and the Law Centre

The staff at this Law Centre comprise solicitors, paralegals and Clerical Officers, all of whom are experienced in handling legal files. We operate as a team in order to provide the best service possible to our clients. Not all interaction needs to be between you and a solicitor. Other members are qualified to deal with certain aspects of your file and they will do so. While you are a client of ours certain matters may be handled by experienced non solicitor staff acting under the supervision of the Law Centre solicitors.  Although a particular solicitor may be allocated to deal with your file, there may be occasions when your case may be transferred to a different Law Centre solicitor.

The Law Centre will try and help you through what may be a very difficult time. We will be courteous to you and treat you with respect. We likewise expect you to treat our staff with courtesy and respect.

6. Keeping in contact

After your second consultation with a solicitor you may need ongoing services from us.  The following are suggestions and information which we hope will allow us to work together in your best interests:

Respond to our requests for instructions

If we need further information from you it is important that you respond quickly as otherwise we may not be able to progress the matter on your behalf.  Failure to provide the necessary information can sometimes damage a person’s case and in some instances we may have no choice but to seek to terminate legal services and stop acting for you.

Letters and emails

Our practice is to keep you informed in writing of any major events that happen in relation to your case.  If you write or email us we will respond to you as soon as we are in a position to do so. However, it is not envisaged that you will need to contact us any more than once a week. Please understand that excessive communication puts a strain on our resources and excessive emailing or telephoning may amount to unreasonable behaviour which could lead to legal services being terminated. Examples of excessive communication are the following:

- Emailing and telephoning us after you have been requested not to contact us but to await further    contact from us;

- Unsolicited emailing more than once a week;

- Emails in excess of four A4 pages (using Ariel font size 12), including any attachments, unless such emails are in response to specific requests for information/documentation from us;

- Calling unnecessarily and/or excessively to the law centre.

We will send any emails using a ‘secure’ system to make sure that they remain private. We will explain to you how this system works and what you need to do if we are emailing you.

Personal callers and appointments

Solicitors only see clients by appointment.  This is so that appropriate time can be allocated to each case and other work is not disrupted.  Please do not bring children with you to the law centre as they cannot be left unsupervised on the premises.

Telephoning us

If you contact us by telephone and your solicitor or paralegal is not available, you may leave a message and he or she will return your call as soon as possible (usually within five working days).

Unauthorised recording of Legal Aid Board staff

The Board operate a strict policy that is unacceptable to record a conversation that you have with a member of our staff, and that includes solicitor/client consultations, without the express permission of that member of staff. Unauthorised recording of any conversation with any staff member of the Legal Aid Board, whether at the Law Centre or otherwise will be considered unreasonable behaviour such that may lead to the termination of all legal services to you. 

Each case we deal with is unique to the person. For most cases a client would rarely need to contact us more than once a week. Given our resources we cannot give a commitment that more frequent contacts will be returned. 

7. Timescale for your case

We will estimate how long your case is likely to continue. As your case proceeds we will let you know what stage we have reached and what and when the next steps will be. This will save you having to inquire about your case. If any event occurs that will delay your case, we will let you know and give you our best estimate of a new timescale.

8. Making a complaint

Good communication between us will guarantee the best possible outcome. However, if you wish to make a complaint about any aspect of our service, we have in place a Complaints Procedure, a copy of which is available at any Law Centre or on the Board’s website, www.legalaidboard.ie.

9. Confidentiality

Our staff have strict obligations under the law to keep client information confidential. The relationship between you and the Law Centre is the same as if you had a private solicitor acting for you. Authorised staff of the Board may seek information and review the work done by solicitors to make sure that you are getting a professional service.

The Legal Aid Board is committed to protecting your data rights and the privacy of your data, in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.

In common with any modern service provider, the Board keeps files in electronic format.  In applying for legal services you consent to the storage of your information in electronic format.  The Board maintains high levels of information security and maintains strict arrangements to prevent unauthorised use of data.  We promise not to use your information other than to provide you with a professional service and for periodic anonymous statistics to assist us in delivering a better service.

It will be necessary, from time to time, to share your data with others, in particular, when employing experts and/or barristers on your behalf and also in accordance with the Board’s Complaints Procedure or in the event of a request by you for a change of solicitor. Furthermore, your file will be subject to review and audit pursuant to the Board’s normal file review or audit processes.

10. Prevention of Crime

Under anti-money laundering regulations, we may need to be sure of your identity and source of assets before we can take on your case.

Identity – you may have already given us evidence of your identity, such as your driving licence or passport, and also given us a document showing your permanent address.

Source of assets – any funds or property that you ask us to deal with must have been legally obtained. If we become aware or suspect that these assets come from an illegal source, we must notify the Gardaí and the Revenue Commissioners without telling you, except in limited circumstances. We will immediately stop acting for you if we have to report illegal assets.

Even when we are not obliged to report to the authorities, we cannot transfer any assets or property funded by the proceeds of crime. This includes funds that have not been declared for tax purposes or that have been obtained by false means. In this situation, you would have to legalise your position before we could act on your behalf.

11. Employing barristers and experts

We will only employ barristers and other experts if we believe they will assist your case and if you give us permission to do so. It is important to remember that, ultimately, you may have to reimburse the Legal Aid Board for the costs and outlay incurred in your case (See Paragraph 12 below) so you need to carefully consider whether the services of a barrister or other experts are required. We will ask you if you have any preference for any particular barrister or expert. However, any barrister chosen must be on the panel of Barristers who agree to provide services to the Legal Aid Board pursuant to the “Terms and Conditions for the Retention of Counsel” and any expert retained must accept payment for his/her services in accordance with the schedule of fees that may be paid pursuant to the Legal Aid Board’s “Fees and expenses for professional and expert witnesses”. We will select professionals who we believe are competent, but we are not responsible for the negligence of anyone we employ on your behalf.

12. Cost of services

The law requires solicitors to set out the basis on which fees are charged to a client. All legally aided clients make a payment before they see a solicitor (an advice contribution) and a further payment before their solicitor represents them in court (an aid contribution). The amount of the payment is based on your income and all your resources may also be considered. You have already been advised of the amount of the advice contribution. Your contribution may be revised if your circumstances change. You are required to notify us of any change in your financial circumstances.

The contribution may not be the only payment that you have to make depending on what happens in your case. In certain circumstances, you may have to reimburse to the Legal Aid Board the full costs and outlay incurred in providing legal services to you. This generally arises where any money is recovered for you or where property (other than your home) is either recovered or preserved for you. The circumstances when such costs and outlay may have to be paid back to the Legal Aid Board will be explained to you by your solicitor. You should also be aware that there may be some incidental expenses not covered by legal aid. We will inform you of these as they arise.

You need to bear in mind that incurring expenditure on your behalf is no different to when you engage a solicitor in private practice. We will only seek to incur expenditure that is necessary for your case. As this expenditure will add to the costs that you may ultimately have to pay back to the Legal Aid Board then we will discuss this with you in advance of incurring such expenditure.

If you do recover any money when we are acting for you then this money must, by law, be paid to the Board. This is to enable the Board to recover the costs of providing the service to you, if appropriate, and then issuing a cheque to you for the balance.

It is the Legal Aid Board’s policy to pass on any interest paid on the amount lodged to you, while it resides in the bank where the Legal Aid Fund is held. However if the bank is, while the settlement monies are lodged to the account, charging a negative deposit interest rate (in other words, that it is charging for the funds to be held on deposit), then an amount equivalent to the interest charged will be deducted from the amount refunded to you.

Interest rates rise and fall from time to time and it is not possible for the Board to predict at this stage what the interest rate will be when and during the period any settlement is lodged to the Fund, or whether it will at that point be a positive or negative rate.

Costs will be calculated on the basis of:

- The appropriate solicitor’s professional fee;

- payments made to barristers;

- expenditure on professional, witness, and report fees; and

- other miscellaneous expenses.

The solicitor’s professional fee is assessed taking a number of factors in account such as:

- How complicated, urgent, and important the matter is;

- How difficult or new the questions about your matter or case are;

- The skill, specialised knowledge and responsibility of your solicitor and staff involved;

- The number of hours your solicitor and staff spend on your matter or case;

- The number and importance of documents your solicitor and staff prepare or examine;

- The value of any transaction that might be involved;

- Whether your solicitor has to travel to deal with the matter; and

- The circumstances in which your solicitor deals with the matter or case.

However, in the event that you are not successful in obtaining an Order that your costs are to be paid by the other side or you have failed to reach agreement that your costs will be paid by the other side then the solicitor’s professional fee shall be calculated solely on the number of hours spent on your case by our solicitors and will be charged at not less than the current standard Board rate of €150 per hour for each hour spent on your case by a solicitor. The time spent on your case will be determined by a number of factors including the ease with which information is made available, the level of engagement we have with you and how easy it is to achieve a resolution to the issues.

In most family law cases involving persons who are in receipt of legal aid, each party ends up paying their own legal costs. On rare occasions, the court may order that the legally aided person can get their costs from the other party. If this happens you have an obligation to assist the Board in taking all necessary steps to recover those costs.

In a family law case, it is most unusual for a court to order a legally aided person to pay the other party’s costs. If this does happen the Board will not be responsible for those costs and you will be personally liable.

In other types of cases (e.g. personal injury cases) if you lose your case, it is normal for you to be ordered to pay the winning parties’ costs.  Again, the Board is not responsible and you will be personally liable for the costs.

If you have any questions or concerns about costs, please feel free to discuss them with your solicitor at any stage.

13. Authority to endorse cheques

Any settlement monies received on your behalf must be lodged to the Board’s account. When we receive cheques made out in your name, we need your authority to sign the back of the cheques so that the bank will then accept these cheques for lodgement to the Board’s account.

14. Information from third parties

When you instruct us to handle your case, you are giving us permission to get information from third parties to help us with your case or transaction, without asking for your permission again.

15. Obtaining your file

You can request a copy of your file and you may take your original file when your case is completed or we are no longer acting for you and satisfactory arrangements have been made in relation to any costs that might be due. We are entitled to copy this file to comply with solicitors’ regulations. Usually, we keep a client’s file for at least six years after it is closed and then destroy it.

If you need your file or information from your file, we can send this to you.

16. General

The terms and conditions described here are effective when we meet with you. Once again, if you have any questions about them, please ask us when we meet with you.

We look forward to working with you.

Yours sincerely,

____________

Jane Jones

Law Centre (__________)

Information gathering

An information gathering sheet should be included with the letter to the applicant. The applicant should be asked to complete this sheet and return it to the law centre prior to the appointment. The information gathering sheets are specific to each case type. Where it is not possible to identify the matter from the applicant’s application form, the generic information gathering sheet should be used.

If the applicant has provided an email address, it is permissible to email (securely) the information gathering form to the applicant, who may then complete it electronically in Microsoft Word and then return it to the law centre via secure email. Instructions to the client on how to respond securely via email should be provided along the lines of those in Chapter 2.

Information Gathering Sheets
Family LawNon Family LawPersonal Injuries