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Practice management standards—in-house

1. Professional conduct

1.1 Conduct

Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ) will ensure that all employees comply with the following standards:

  1. Communications with practitioners for other parties and parties who are self-representing and grants officers are carried out in a professional manner.
  2. A grant of aid to a client is not be used as a tool for negotiation or argument.
  3. The provision of timely correspondence to Grants.
  4. The retention and briefing of counsel is conducted in sufficient time to enable them to give proper consideration to the matter.
  5. Counsel is to be provided with written instructions and sufficient observations on the law to assist them to appreciate the issues involved. Briefs and instructions to counsel are to be in writing and include all relevant available documentation.
  6. Briefs to counsel are marked 'Legal Aid' and include the relevant proforma account.
  7. Practitioners must not knowingly deceive or mislead the court.
  8. Practitioners are to act with due courtesy to the court at all times and avoid unnecessary expense or waste of the court's time.
  9. Practitioners holding or acting in a position in the Criminal Law Services or Regional Services division (whether admitted as a barrister or solicitor) are to act as a solicitor pursuant to s.76(2) of the Legal Aid Queensland Act 1997 and should not robe in any jurisdiction. An appearance can be announced as 'legal practitioner employed with Legal Aid Queensland'.  
  10. A practitioner practicing in criminal law, not holding or acting in a position of Counsel in LAQ’s in-house barristers chambers seeking to appear as an advocate in the Supreme or District Courts or Childrens Court of Queensland in one of the following proceedings must seek approval to do so from either the Public Defender or the Director of Criminal Law Services (unless exceptional circumstances apply due to urgency) at least 1 week prior to the known court date:
    • Sentence
    • Trial
    • Pre-trial hearing.
  11. Practitioners are to ensure that the court is informed of any relevant decision, point of law or legislative provision whether it be for or against the contention.  

    1.2 Ethical obligations

    LAQ is to ensure that:

    1. The ethical standards of the legal profession are observed by all employees.
    2. Information concerning the affairs of a client is not disclosed to unauthorised parties except in accordance with the relevant ethical standards or legislation.
    3. Legal assistance is provided to the client in accordance with the terms of the grant of aid.
    4. All client information is dealt with in a confidential manner.
    5. Any information which may impact on the merit or financial eligibility of a person with a grant of legal aid is reported to LAQ.

    1.3 Conflicts of interest

    LAQ is to ensure that there is no conflict of interest when requesting or accepting a grant of aid. The standard to be achieved is such that an officer should not assist any person in a manner which would lead a reasonable observer to consider that LAQ had a conflict of interest which may have led the officer to act prejudicially or preferably towards one or other of the parties to a dispute.

    The standard will be achieved by the following:

    1. Checking all relevant database systems to ensure there is no conflict of interest before allocating a grant of aid to an in-house officer.
    2. An officer, including a children's representative, representing a client on an in-house basis, not having access to a grants file for the other party to the action or to the file of a related party.
    3. An officer managing a grant of aid for a client being represented by a private practitioner not having access to the LAQ file of the other party or a related party if that person is represented by an officer of LAQ.
    4. A search of databases for potential conflict shall not be routinely undertaken before providing legal advice.
    5. A lawyer shall not conduct a legal advice interview if the lawyer is aware that the other party to the dispute or a related party has previously received legal advice concerning the dispute from LAQ, unless:
      • the advice was provided by another team or regional office of LAQ and
      • it can be demonstrated that the lawyer providing the advice has no access to the records of the advice from that other team or regional office.
    6. If LAQ is not able to provide advice due to conflict then the client should be referred to a private practitioner for independent legal advice.
    7. If, during the course of a legal advice interview, a lawyer becomes aware that the other party or a related party to the dispute has received legal advice on the same matter from a lawyer in the same team or at the same regional office of LAQ, the interviewing lawyer terminates the interview and advises the client to seek independent legal advice from a private practitioner.

      The lawyer cannot disclose to the client the fact that the other or related party has attended LAQ and obtained legal advice. The lawyer may disclose to the client that a possible conflict exists.
    8. Prior to providing any in-house assistance which is more than legal advice, a duty lawyer service or an information service, records must be checked to determine if the other party to the dispute has been assisted by any in-house service.

    2. Case management

    2.1 Arrangements

    LAQ will have arrangements to:

    1. Use a case reference system.
    2. Identify any conflict of interest.
    3. Monitor the number and type of matters undertaken by each practitioner to ensure that they are within his or her capacity.
    4. Centrally record key dates in matters so as to ensure action is taken by the practitioner at the appropriate time.
    5. Ensure proper authorisation and monitoring of undertakings given on behalf of LAQ.
    6. Where required to do so by a third party funding a matter, or by a client instructing LAQ in a number of matters, LAQ will have a system which enables all relevant matters to be identified.
    7. LAQ will have procedures to ensure that it are able to identify and trace all documents correspondence and other information relating to a case and that these are properly stored and are readily accessible.
    8. LAQ will have arrangements to supervise the conduct of casework, including arrangements for case files to be reviewed periodically - see Legal Professional Supervision Policy and File Review Policy.

    3. Client management

    3.1 Initial contact

    LAQ will have arrangements to ensure that:

    1. There are adequate staffing levels to manage public enquires during business hours.
    2. Clients are assisted in applying for a grant of aid or an extension of aid. An explanation of the terms of the grant of aid should include the application process, cost contribution if levied and the procedure to have the decision reviewed.
    3. Clients are referred to an appropriate alternative if LAQ is unable to assist the person.
    4. Effective strategies are used to deal with difficult clients. All clients should be treated in a respectful and dignified manner.
    5. Interpreters are engaged when a client indicates they are unable to adequately communicate, or they request an interpreter, or the practitioner reasonably believes that an interpreter would assist the communication, or is necessary for swearing affidavits or statutory declarations or obtaining informed consent.

    3.2 Conduct of a matter

    LAQ will have arrangements to ensure that:

    1. The legal process and procedure relating to the matter is fully explained to the client. This should include the contact details of their legal practitioner, relevant dates, the role of all parties in the process and the process concerning appeals and complaints.
    2. The client is kept fully briefed on the progress of their matter. When it becomes apparent that the matter will be delayed, the client is to be advised.
    3. If the practitioner is unable to represent or meet with their client on a particular occasion, a delegate is arranged and fully briefed on the matter.
    4. Client telephone messages are responded to within a reasonable time.
    5. Should a practitioner no longer be able to represent the client, the client is informed and provided with appropriate advice.

    3.3 Finalisation of a matter

    LAQ will have arrangements to ensure that:

    1. The client is briefed on the outcome of the matter and any further action required by the client is explained fully.
    2. Any original documents and property is returned to the client unless there is a mutual arrangement to retain with the Practitioner.

    3.4 Complaints

    LAQ will have arrangements for:

    1. Centralised recording of every formal complaint made by a client.
    2. Timely investigation into each complaint.
    3. Centralised records of the results of all investigations into complaints including evidence that a response was provided to the client. In cases where the complaint is substantiated, a record of the remedial action taken should be noted.

    4. File management

    4.1 Arrangements

    LAQ will have arrangements to ensure that:

    1. A relevant grant of aid exists at all times. In instances where aid has been granted for two or more matters, separate files are opened for each matter.
    2. Notice is given to each person who is or who becomes a party to the proceeding that the client is legally aided.
    3. The status of the file and action taken can be easily verified by other members of LAQ.
    4. Documents are arranged in the file in an orderly way.
    5. Summary information is shown clearly on the file which will include details of any undertakings given on behalf of LAQ.
    6. At all times, files must show a complete, readily identifiable record of relevant documents, events and work. The documents include all correspondence, memos, telephone messages, court documents, medical reports and certificates, witness proofs, statements, expert reports, photographs, proof of income/tax documents and research documents.
    7. Details of personal or telephone attendances must be noted on file. The record must include date and time of attendance, persons present, instructions taken, advice given and length of time.
    8. Details of all work and or research undertaken must be noted on a file. The record includes date, details of work/research, identity of person undertaking the work and the length of time.
    9. Evidence noted on a file that all reasonable endeavours have been made to engage female barristers in accordance with the requirements of the Case Management Standards
    10. Evidence that a supervisor has audited litigation files, particularly to ensure time limits are complied with and the file complies with work practice standards.
    11. Review of the file upon completion to ensure all necessary steps have been taken prior to finalising the matter.
    12. There is a document retention policy for client files and records which complies with requirements under the general law.

    5. Standards specific to duty lawyer

    5.1 Advice

    A duty lawyer is to advise a client of any defences relevant to the charges faced by the client. If the client wishes to enter a plea of guilty, the duty lawyer should obtain signed instructions where practical.

    5.2 Representation

    In the case where a client advises the duty lawyer that they are not guilty of an offence but wish to plead guilty, the duty lawyer is to take all reasonable steps to advise the client of defences and the consequences of pleading guilty. If the client decides to continue with a plea of guilty, the duty lawyer must decline to enter the plea and suggest the client enter their own plea.

    5.3 Referral

    In the case where a client seeks assistance in a matter in which the duty lawyer is unable to assist, the duty lawyer is to refer the client to appropriate services. It is the responsibility of the duty lawyer to ensure referrals are made in accordance with the policy outlined in these standards.

    6. Standards specific to resources/personnel

    6.1 Legal resources

    LAQ is to have ready access to up-to-date legal reference books and journals for the areas in which the firm offers a service for LAQ clients.

    6.2 Training and development

    The Practitioner will have arrangements in place to ensure that:

    1. There is an induction process for new staff.
    2. All staff are trained to a level of competence appropriate to their work.
    3. Training and development needs are assessed for each person against the objectives of the firm and are reviewed at least annually.

    6.3 Supervision

    The Practitioner will ensure that there are appropriate arrangements to supervise the conduct of casework and other tasks.

    6.4 Equal opportunity

    The Practitioner will ensure non-discriminatory and equal opportunity practices are observed and behaviour not consistent with those practices are dealt with according to the relevant policy.

    7. Standards for suppliers of services

    7.1 Payment

    Suppliers will only be paid in accordance with the Legal Aid Queensland Scale of Fees. There is no discretion for the practitioner to negotiate or authorise fees outside the Scale of Fees without the prior approval of Grants.

    7.2 Barristers

    LAQ is to ensure that any barrister which they engage to undertake legal aid work complies with the following standards:

    1. Admission as a barrister at law of the Supreme Court of Queensland.
    2. Holder of a current practising certificate under the Legal Profession Act 2007.
    3. The provision of timely advice on evidence.
    4. Endorsement of the brief with the outcome of the matter. For criminal law matters, the evaluation form and the opinion of the prospects of appeal must be completed.
    5. Return of the brief within 24 hours after conclusion of the matter.
    6. In the event that a barrister is unable to continue to accept a brief, the right to brief a replacement counsel is reserved.

    7.3 Medical practitioners

    A medical practitioner includes general medical practitioners, specialist medical practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists etc. The medical practitioner must comply with the following standards:

    1. Holder of current membership to a professional body.
    2. Prompt provision of medico legal reports.
    3. Attendance at court if required.
    4. Prompt completion and return of affidavits.
    5. Acceptance of payment for services at LAQ rates.

    7.4 Other experts

    This category includes engineers, accountants and other providers of expert services. They must comply with the following standards:

    1. Membership with a professional body where one exists.
    2. Prompt provision and release of the report as required by the practitioner.
    3. Attendance at court if required.
    4. Prompt completion and return of affidavits.
    5. Acceptance of payment for services at LAQ rates.

    7.5 Process servers

    The process servers must comply with the following requirements:

    1. Prompt provision of reports on service of documents or attempts on service.
    2. Prompt completion and return of affidavits.
    3. Acceptance of payment for services at LAQ rates.

    8. Standards specific to the in-house practice

    8.1 Legal advice standards

    LAQ will have standards for the provision of legal advice to clients.

    8.2 Referral

    Referrals should be provided where a client is not eligible for a grant of aid and other LAQ services are unavailable or unsuitable to the client's requirements.

    1. If a client requires a referral to a private practitioner or another agency, the referral must contain the name of three services or private practitioners where possible or relevant. Referrals are in writing and should indicate that the services are not part of LAQ and that specific eligibility criteria or charges may apply. A copy of the referral is kept with the client's records.
    2. If a client is referred to an agency or a private practitioner for a specific service at a cost or under conditions agreed to by LAQ, the limitations (if any) of the service should be explained in writing to the client.
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