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File management

All files should be maintained in a structured manner. (Different file covers for different subject matters should be used where possible).

Files should be maintained as follows:-

  • one subject matter per file (see below);
  • certificates/application form kept together, on the inside left cover;
  • correspondence should be filed in chronological order;
  • use standard format for factual information;
  • multiple copies of papers, drafts etc. should not be retained;
  • memo’s, correspondence etc. should be concise;
  • documents such as pleadings, reports, valuations, marriage certificates, birth certificates and copies of any previous orders should be kept together in a separate folder/wallet/treasury tag. An index to record issued pleadings, receipt of papers, etc.
  • should be attached to the folder;
  • any undertakings given or received should be copied and stapled with the legal aid certificate on the inside cover and a record of the undertaking should be recorded in marker at the front of the file; and
  • any title documents the law centre comes into possession of should be stored in the safe.

Files should never be stored on the floor and one file should be worked on at a time.

Information and files left on floors and on desks is also more likely to be damaged or destroyed in a disaster such as fire or flood. This should not be considered a remote possibility, as a law centre has had recent experience of serious flooding.

Each file should contain an individual case plan and checklist based on the client’s circumstances, outlining the steps that are to be taken in relation to the case.  This assists in an easy assessment of the status of the file. The plan should highlight key stages of the file and target time frames by which each key stage should be completed.

The following six key stages are considered to be the general breakdown of the stages that could arise in all files. The content of each stage would depend on the nature of the particular proceedings of the case.

Key stage 1: Initial consultation and legal advice

Key stage 2: Application for legal aid

Key stage 3: Pleadings

Key stage 4: Court proceedings

Key stage 5: Enforcement and costs

Key stage 6: File closure

The Circular on Legal Services provides greater detail on case management for different types of cases.

At the first appointment, the solicitor/caseworker must confirm that the “subject matter,” as stated on the application form, is an accurate description of the matter in respect of which the applicant is actually seeking legal services.

Procedure 8.2 – Recording confirmation of the subject matter (Solicitors only)

Where it transpires that the subject matter as described by the applicant is incorrect or is stated in broad or vague terms and the solicitor/caseworker and applicant agree that the subject matter is a different matter or is clarified or made more specific, the solicitor/caseworker should:-

  1. record the amended “subject matter” in an attendance;
  2. alter the hard copy of the application form to reflect the amended “subject matter;”
  3. arrange for the applicant to initial same; and
  4. amend the subject matter on EOS, by clicking the twisty beside the Case Reference, choosing a new case category and case type, and clicking “Save Updated Case Details”. Remember to review and if necessary update the risk and priority levels of the case each time the case type is updated.
    (Chapters 3 & 5)
     

The amended subject matter is then the matter in respect of which legal services are sought.

When a person is receiving legal aid for a family law matter in the District Court, other related family law matters may also arise in the District Court. This may happen either during the course of or after the determination of the proceedings. This can be done on foot of the original application form with an appropriate note on the file as to the matter for which legal services are being sought.

In practice, where a person is granted legal aid/advice, for example, for a domestic violence remedy, and issues of custody/access/maintenance arise at the same time, or within a period of 3 months, all matters should be dealt with on the same file. A contribution is payable in respect of the new certificate unless all matters can be dealt with at the same time. 

A person seeking legal aid for an appeal of a matter which they have already been legally aided must make a fresh application for legal services. The application will be dealt with as a priority.

An application for legal aid to re-enter proceedings in which the applicant was formerly legally aided is considered to be an application in respect of the same “subject matter” where the application is made no later than 4 months from the date:-

  • that the Court Clerk/Registrar signs the order(s) to which the re-entry relates, or
  • by which, pursuant to the order, certain steps were to be carried out by one of the parties.

The applicant, however, must apply for, and be granted, an amended legal aid certificate in respect of re-entry. It is not necessary, therefore, for the applicant to complete a new application form or to pay an additional contribution.

Applications for legal aid in relation to the re-entry of proceedings that are made outside the above mentioned time period are regarded as new applications.

An application for legal aid in relation to the enforcement of orders made in proceedings in which the applicant was formerly legally aided is considered to be an application in respect of the same “subject matter”, where the application is made no later than 4 months from the date of the orders to which the enforcement relates.

The applicant, however, must apply for, and be granted, an amended legal aid certificate in respect of the enforcement.  

It is not necessary, therefore, for the applicant to complete a new application form, or pay an additional contribution.

Applications for legal aid in respect of enforcement proceedings that are made outside the above mentioned time period are regarded as new applications.

An applicant may apply simultaneously for legal services in respect of two separate matters, for example

  • defence of District Court maintenance
  • instituting judicial separation proceedings

The applicant must complete a separate application form in respect of each matter, be financially assessed and pay an advice contribution in respect of each matter. One file should be maintained in respect of the District Court maintenance proceedings and another in respect of the judicial separation proceedings.

The same procedure applies where the applicant applies simultaneously for legal services in respect of separate matters, for example

  • instituting judicial separation proceedings
  • legal advice in relation to an employment matter

A new (second) file must be opened where an applicant applies for legal services in relation to re-entry or enforcement proceedings outside the time periods referred to above.

A new (second) file must be opened where an applicant applies for legal services in respect of a conveyancing matter connected to a matter in which legal services have already been provided.

Only one client file should be maintained in respect of these particular services:-

  • legal advice and subsequent legal aid in relation to the same matter
  • District Court matter (including related matter)
  • case stated
  • judicial review
  • subsequent re-entry of the same proceedings pursuant to an amendment to the original certificate
  • subsequent enforcement proceedings pursuant to an amendment to the original certificate 

When the “subject matter” has been determined, the client should be advised in writing that:-

  • the subject matter has been determined
  • if s/he wishes to obtain legal services in respect of a new subject matter, this will require the completion of a new application for legal services form.

A former client who completes a new application for legal services form is treated as a new applicant for legal services.