Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 7.7 on Case Planning

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Standard

The practitioner should determine a course of action for handling the client's case that identifies applicable law and available remedies and enables the client and practitioner to make knowledgeable decisions to pursue the client's objectives.

Commentary

Case planning should involve an open-ended evaluation of the facts presented and an identification of the legal issues that arise from those facts. In cases where the practitioner provides limited representation, planning is relatively simple and is based primarily on information provided by the client in the initial interview. In complex cases involving extended representation, several people may be involved in the case planning process to assure that all significant issues and additional important facts that should be obtained are identified.

Case planning in both limited and extended representation cases provides an opportunity to assess the relationship between the problem presented by the individual client and similar problems that affect other clients. If the client's problem is part of a recurring pattern or one aspect of a broader problem affecting other members of low income communities, that fact may be important in charting a case strategy. The pattern may also have important evidentiary value in the individual case. It may also suggest a strategy that seeks a remedy on behalf of a group or class of clients, as well as the individual.

Case planning should consider a number of factors that can affect the outcome of a case, including the following:

  • The state of the law regarding the issues involved, the particular facts in the case, and the relationship between the two;
  • The client's personal circumstances including, for example, the client’s willingness and commitment to pursue a lengthy or uncertain strategy;
  • In appropriate circumstances, the existence of other members of low income communities who may have a stake in the outcome of the case.

The extent of such an analysis will vary from case to case. Generally, the more complex the case and the greater its significance, the more critical it is to engage in an expansive strategic analysis that includes a wide variety of factors that may influence its outcome. However, even in cases that present apparently routine issues, the provider and practitioner should consider whether the outcome in the client's particular case will have a significant impact on other members of low income communities. If so the provider should analyze the issues to determine whether it would be beneficial to provide extended representation to the client as part of an effort to modify or clarify the law to assist other members of low income communities who may be faced with the same issue.

Case planning creates a tentative road map for handling a case to achieve the client's desired objective. At its earliest stage, the practitioner presents the client with various options that may be pursued. The case plan should be regularly reviewed and adjusted in response to significant developments in the case. The client should be consulted when these developments occur and should participate in making key strategic decisions.

When a case strategy is adopted, key steps for implementation should be determined, with a firm timetable for their completion. A firm timetable is important so that, to the extent practicable, the practitioner controls the pace and direction of the case, rather than the adverse party. Facts that need further development should be identified, and a plan for investigation and discovery established. Legal issues to be researched should be noted. If more than one individual is involved in handling the case, responsibilities should be specifically assigned. The case planning process should identify the approximate resources necessary to pursue the case. If extraordinary resources are likely to be required, the practitioner should determine whether they will be available. If not, then another strategy should be developed.

In extended representation cases, an attorney practitioner should be involved in case planning even when non-attorney practitioners, properly supervised, are authorized by law to engage in the representation, to assure that all legal issues and possible courses of action are properly considered at the initiation of representation. Case plans developed for representation by non-attorney practitioners should be reviewed on a regular basis by a supervising attorney to ascertain whether developments in the case warrant a new course of action including ones that can only be undertaken by a lawyer.