Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 7.17 on Maintenance of Professional Competence

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The practitioner should seek ongoing education, training and expertise to meet assigned responsibilities and to keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice.


General considerations

A hallmark of the practitioner's responsibility to a client is the duty to provide competent representation. These Standards set a higher benchmark of high quality representation to which practitioners should aspire. To meet the standard of competence and the target of high quality representation, a practitioner should seek legal education, training and other means of professional growth, including effective supervision. In addition, the practitioner should stay current on changes in the law and emerging issues that affect low income persons and their communities as well as strategies for responding to them.

Practitioners may also take on leadership and management responsibilities within a provider that have an impact on the quality of assistance offered by others. Some supervise and mentor other practitioners and others assume roles communicating with the low income and legal communities about the legal needs of persons served and strategies to respond. Other practitioners will be responsible for the legal work agenda of the provider or one of its components. Practitioners who take on such responsibilities should seek education, training and other sources of expertise to improve their capacity to carry out those responsibilities effectively.

Education, training and other sources of expertise

Providers are responsible for making a variety of training opportunities available to practitioners. Standard 6.5 on Training sets out the provider's basic responsibilities in this regard. Other Standards identify specific training needs that support effective fulfillment of those Standards. A legal aid practitioner has a responsibility to take advantage of trainings that are offered and to advocate for training in the event that the provider does not meet its responsibilities to make it available.

In addition to training and education, there are other sources of expertise that can assist a practitioner to grow professionally. A practitioner should participate in task forces, e-mail lists and other networks that offer exposure to knowledge and skills pertinent to the practitioner's work. Some such networks may exist within a provider or group of local providers. Others exist on a state or regional level and offer a regular menu of trainings, task force meetings and electronically supported networks. Some issues attract networks of advocates that function at a national level. The practitioner should be alert to where such networks exist and should take advantage of the support that they offer for professional growth and improved quality of legal aid for low income persons.

Another important factor in a practitioner's professional growth is the degree to which the individual is effectively mentored as a new practitioner and is appropriately supervised at all levels of experience. The practitioner has a responsibility to accept supervision and to request it if it is not being provided in a way that supports the development and maintenance of appropriate professional skills and knowledge.

Areas of focus. The practitioner should seek training and other support for professional growth in the following areas:

  • Basic skills necessary to serve clients and others effectively, including effective negotiation and interview techniques;
  • Specialized skills appropriate to the practitioner's area of practice, such as litigation and trial advocacy, legislative and administrative policy advocacy, transactional representation or community economic development;
  • Substantive knowledge in the areas in which the individual is or may become engaged;
  • Substantive knowledge related to newly emerging legal issues, including those that result from social, political and economic developments that affect low income communities;
  • Knowledge and skills to function in a culturally competent manner;
  • Knowledge and skills related to the use of technology to support effective practice, including legal and factual research and the use of case management and practice related software;
  • Skills related to effective supervision and mentoring, if required by the practitioner's responsibilities in the provider;
  • Leadership capabilities pertinent to the practitioner's role in the provider.