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Standard 6.5 on Review of Representation

Standard 6.4 | Table of Contents | Standard 6.6


Consistent with practitioners' duties relating to confidentiality of client information relating to the representation, a legal aid organization should review the assistance and representation provided to clients to ensure that they receive high-quality assistance and to identify areas in which the organization should offer training and support to its practitioners. Utilizing a robust case management system can make supervision through case review more efficient and effective.


General Considerations

An organization should review all aspects of the assistance and representation that its practitioners provide to its clients. Case review is one of several valuable methods to ensure that persons assisted by the organization receive high-quality, timely service and to promote continued growth in the professional skills of practitioners. The format of a successful review system will vary among organizations, but each should meet the objectives set forth in this Standard and commentary while also ensuring client confidentiality. A more intensive and systematic review system is appropriate for those organizations that employ staff practitioners, while the level of review of the work of outside attorneys who take cases on referral will vary in accordance with the respective level of responsibility assumed by the organization and the outside practitioner.

File reviews and case reviews should be conducted to learn the status of each case, to guide the practitioner in determining next steps, to develop an understanding of best practices in both file and case management, to judge the quality and quantity of the practitioner's current performance in direct client services, to assess the practitioner's responsiveness to the client and to identify areas of improvement needed, if any. A case review also provides an evaluation of the overall caseload of the practitioner and identifies if reallocations may be needed.

Objectives of Review

A review system should ensure that practitioners provide high-quality assistance and representation, that they identify all pertinent issues and effectively pursue appropriate remedies in accordance with clients' objectives. A review system should also ensure that the practitioners pursue the clients' objectives in a timely and expeditious manner, keep clients adequately informed of the progress of their cases and consult them regarding important strategy decisions. It should allow the organization to identify when the quality of work is not up to acceptable standards, to remedy mistakes, and to cure delays so that the organization can act appropriately to protect the clients' interests. A robust case management system may be able to set ticklers and reminders to make supervision of deadlines easier.

Case review and other methods of review of assistance and representation can also serve as effective tools to teach new skills and reinforce old ones. It also can link formal training efforts with specific needs of individual practitioners. Review can also be a significant source of information to the organization about the effectiveness of its practitioners' legal work and provide insight into the effectiveness of organization structure. 

Informal reviews can also be impactful. Informal reviews may be in the form of team meetings to discuss cases strategies and ongoing case activities. An organization should encourage informal reviews by practitioners with supervisors and legal directors. 

Key Ingredients of Systematic Review of Representation

Where an organization is fully responsible for the conduct of staff providing the assistance or representation, a formal and systematic review process is appropriate. To be effective, it should include periodic formal appraisal of the individual practitioner's work, including, among other things, an examination by the reviewer of an appropriate sample of open case files and a conference between the practitioner and the reviewer to discuss the results of the review. Other more frequent reviews may be done through reviewing reports in the organization's case management system.

The frequency of review may vary according to the experience of the person whose work is being reviewed. The work of new and inexperienced practitioners should be reviewed more frequently to ensure that their clients are provided with high-quality representation and assistance and to foster each practitioner's development as an effective and highly skilled professional.

Organizations should generally review complex legal matters in-depth to ensure that the practitioner has identified all major issues and considered appropriate remedies. Strategies should be periodically reevaluated during the course of the representation or assistance to take account of new developments that may arise in the case. For more routine cases, organizations should review randomly selected samples to ensure that the practitioner is generally proceeding in a competent and timely fashion, with adequate client contact, and to identify any unacceptable patterns of practice.

The scope and direction of review should be controlled by the reviewer. While practitioners should be encouraged to exchange ideas with their supervisors and with peers on a regular basis, especially in challenging cases, and to identify recurring legal issues, practitioners should not limit review to a self-selected portion of their workload. A practitioner may not be inclined to share information on those cases that are most in need of attention, and the organization has a responsibility to keep abreast of developments in those cases.

Ideally, reviewers should be successful, experienced practitioners with the demonstrated ability to identify legal issues and with the substantive knowledge and procedural skills to plan and implement effective strategies. Even when experienced practitioners are not available to conduct case reviews, it is nevertheless important for organizations to have each practitioner's case work reviewed regularly by other members of the organization's staff. All reviewers should be able to give constructive criticism to practitioners whose work is being reviewed. 

Case reviews should be scheduled well in advance. Case reviews are an important component of quality client services and should not be canceled without simultaneous rescheduling for another date in the near future. Case reviews should be conducted in person, if feasible.

Other Methods of Review

In addition to formal case review, a number of other methods of oversight may be helpful in supplementing the formal review process:

  • Day-to-day interaction between practitioners and supervisors, by means of formal conferences or informal discussions regarding pending cases and other legal work.
  • Assignment of responsibility for complex representation jointly to a senior practitioner and one or more junior practitioners to ensure that the work of the least experienced staff is overseen by someone of proven ability.
  • Regular office or team meetings to inform supervisors and peers of the status of an individual's cases and other legal work.
  • Frequent case management reports to supervisors on the status of the practitioner's open cases, in sufficient detail to signal a need for further inquiry in the event that a case is not proceeding properly.
  • Attendance by the reviewer at proceedings, such as hearings and trials, meetings, or other settings where the reviewer has an opportunity to observe the practitioner's performance.

Review of Outside Attorneys' Casework

The degree to which an organization should review the work performed by an outside attorney to whom it has referred a case is a function of the contractual relationship between the attorney and the organization and with the client. Generally, an organization will not review case files of outside attorneys unless such review is provided for under the agreement between the outside attorney and the organization, and the organization has agreed to be responsible for the representation or assistance.