Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 6.6 on Providing Adequate Resources for Research and Investigation

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Standard

A provider should assure the availability of adequate resources for appropriate legal research and factual investigation.

Commentary

Resources for legal research

To provide high quality representation of clients, practitioners should have access to adequate tools for effective legal research. Each practitioner should have ready access to source materials, including pertinent federal and state statutes, state and federal reporters, law review articles, relevant treatises, poverty law reporters and other material on legal issues facing low income persons. The materials should be available in hard copy or through internet research tools and computer assisted legal research services. Websites, e-mail lists and internet-based discussion groups also provide important resources for legal aid practitioners to keep up with rapid changes in poverty law. Providers should budget sufficient funds to assure that their practitioners have access to those tools that they require to assure high quality legal work and should encourage their practitioners to make full use of free resources that are available on-line.

The provider should maintain updated in-house pleading and brief banks with easily retrievable research products so that the cumulative knowledge gained through successive representation of clients with similar issues is available to the provider's current practitioners. In-house pleading and brief banks should be maintained in electronic form for easy searching and retrieval of pertinent materials. Providers should also participate in national, regional and statewide brief banks that permit many providers to share their research products and to give practitioners easy access to up-to-date research, information and knowledge pertinent to assisting low income persons with their legal problems.

Computer assisted research provides practitioners with access to a vast array of legal research tools. Although such services may be relatively costly, providers should weigh those costs against the expense of maintaining up-to-date traditional law libraries. In addition, discounts may be available to legal aid providers that reduce the cost considerably. Providers should budget sufficient funds to assure that their practitioners have access to the computer assisted legal research tools that are necessary to assure high quality representation.

A provider should encourage its practitioners to participate in internet-based discussion groups, e-mail lists and other similar tools that provide up-to-date information on poverty law issues. In addition, substantial information is available for free or for moderate cost from websites maintained by regional, state or national groups that address a range of issues faced by low income communities. Providers should also encourage their practitioners to seek support and assistance from other appropriate sources outside the program. National, regional and state research and advocacy groups, public interest law firms and similar organizations often provide co-counseling, research, advocacy coordination, training and other assistance that can significantly enhance the quality of representation for the provider's clients.

All of these tools require providers to have access to technology that is up to date and to assure that provider's practitioners and other staff are fully trained to make full use of the technological tools that are available.

Resources for factual investigation

Effective and thorough information gathering is essential to the success of any representation. Information provided by clients is often incomplete and may contain inaccuracies. Particularly in cases that are factually complex or confusing, practitioners should not have to rely solely on the information provided at the initial interview in order to plan their representation strategies. Practitioners may often be required to investigate claims made by their clients to assure that they are fully apprised of all of the circumstances that may have an impact on their clients' legal problems.

In some instances practitioners may need the skills of experienced investigators to fill out the details of their clients' cases or uncover information helpful to the client's case. The provider should devote adequate resources to permit the use of outside experts when necessary and, when appropriate, to maintain in-house staff who are tasked with doing factual investigations and who are skilled in investigative techniques. The provider should offer training to assure that its practitioners and other staff who may have investigative responsibilities are fully apprised of the techniques that are useful and fully aware of other resources that may be available to help in investigating clients' claims.