Just in case
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Marc Bloomfield
Good record-keeping is essential, wherever your work takes place.
I have been working with a practice that delivers advice free of charge at an outreach location. Clients may go on to receive further advice and casework from the main office on a paid-for basis, but it may simply turn out to be a one-off piece of advice. There was a discussion about what should be recorded on the file and how it should be done.
We concluded that even though it is tempting to think such sessions are different from mainstream work carried out from the office, good case records have to be kept for the same reasons wherever work takes place:
so that the client has a record in case they forget the advice they were given;
so that you know what was (and was not) advised previously if the client comes back;
so that the work can be properly supervised;
as evidence if needed by professional indemnity insurers;
to comply with SRA Code of Conduct requirements; and
to comply with data protection requirements.
Client care
As the practice is Lexcel-accredited, we considered the relevant elements of Lexcel v6.1.1Lexcel England and Wales v6.1 standard for legal practices, Law Society, March 2018. However, even if you are not Lexcel-accredited, it is worth considering, as The Law Society has kept it up to date with developments in the wider environment, whereas the Specialist Quality Mark has not been significantly revised since 2010. Lexcel section 6.2 requires practitioners to:
a.where appropriate, establish the client’s requirements and objectives
b.provide a clear explanation of the issues involved and the options available to the client
c.explain what the fee earner will and will not do
d.agree with the client the next steps to be taken
e.keep the client informed of progress, as agreed
f.establish in what timescale that matter will be dealt with
g.establish the method of funding
h.where appropriate, consider whether the intended action would be merited on a cost benefit analysis
i.agree an appropriate level of service
j.explain the practice’s responsibilities and the client’s
k.provide the client with the name and status of the person dealing with their matter
l.provide the client with the name and status of the person responsible for the overall supervision of their matter
m.explain to the client their rights as data subjects and provide the client with the name of the person responsible for data protection (page 13; emphasis in original).
We concluded that notes of every advice meeting would need to be kept in the usual way. Even one-off advice clients would need to receive a letter tailored to their own personal circumstances and the advice given. They would also need to receive a standard ‘client care’ letter, based on the practice’s established template, but tailored to show that advice provided at the outreach clinic was free of charge.
Case management
The caseworker would have preferred to keep only hard-copy records to reduce writing-up time for unpaid work, but this just carried too many risks. It was decided that notes of the sessions could be recorded in a notebook but would need to be transferred to the practice’s case management system as soon as possible on return. This would create an easily accessible record that people seen at the outreach were clients of the practice along with the advice provided, in case they contacted the practice subsequently. It would also enable the records to be sampled for file review purposes and supervision.
The relevant Lexcel requirements for file and case management did not pose additional challenges due to the location of the session:
7.1 Practices must ensure that the strategy for a matter is always apparent on the matter file and that in complex cases a project plan is developed.
[…]
7.3 Practices must have a procedure to:
[…]
d.ensure that the status of the matter and the action taken can be easily checked by other members of the practice
e.ensure that documents are stored on the matter file(s) in an orderly way (page 15; emphasis in original).
As the outreach was being held in the premises of a third-party organisation, data protection issues needed to be considered particularly carefully to make sure notes were not left behind inadvertently or mislaid on the return journey.
 
1     Lexcel England and Wales v6.1 standard for legal practices, Law Society, March 2018. »

About the author(s)

Description: Vicky Ling - author
Vicky Ling is a consultant specialising in legal aid practice and a founder member of the Law Consultancy Network.