This may seem like common sense to most experienced legal case workers but I was asked the same question last week by two different people who were new to this line of work. I have therefore turned my answer into a post in case there are more people out there wondering about this issue.
The question I was asked was along the lines of, “Mr Bloggs has not been touch since I met with him two weeks ago. He has not replied to my phone messages and emails. Shall I just leave things and take no further action on this case?”
The simple answer to the question is “No. Don’t just leave things.”. The longer answer is that you need to take steps to ensure that you can demonstrate that you have tried to contact the client; you have warned them that their case will be closed if you do not hear from them and that you have notified them that you are taking no further action. If you do not do this you are at risk of the client re-appearing in the future complaining that they thought you were supposed to be helping them and its your fault that they have been evicted or whatever it is that has happened to them. The worst example of this is the call from the client at Court just before a hearing is about to start asking why nobody is there to represent them. If you protest at that stage that you did not know about the hearing because they had not been in touch there is a risk that they will say that they assumed you had also received notice of the hearing and were dealing with it. If they complain about you not having worked on their case after they disappeared the person dealing with the complaint will ask you for the evidence that you told them that you were not helping them. If you don’t have this there is a risk that you will be found to be at fault. To avoid this I suggest that you take the following four steps.
** Note ** I refer to sending letters in the steps below. If you have an email address for the client you might just want to send emails. I suggest that to be on the safe side you send a letter in the post and send a copy by email as well. I also suggest that you send a text message at each step as well.
Step 1 – Send a Letter Asking For Instructions
You should send the client a letter asking them to contact you and provide instructions. Diarise a date for 14 days later (or sooner depending on the urgency) to review the case so as to to move on to Step 2 if there is no response.
Step 2 – Send A Reminder Letter
You should send a further letter enclosing or forwarding the first letter and asking the client to provide the instructions requested. Another text message should also be sent. Set another diary date for Step 3.
Step 3 – Send A File Closure Warning Letter
If you have still received no response send a further letter enclosing the first letter and referring to that and the reminder and repeat the request for instructions. This time include a paragraph stating that if you do not hear from the client after 7 days you will close their file on the basis that they no longer require instructions and that you trust this is agreeable to them. If you are on the record as acting for them warn them that you will notify the Court and any other parties that you are no longer representing them. If they have a Legal Funding Certificate state that you will be asking the Legal Aid Agency to cancel their Legal Funding Certificate. A further text message should also be sent. Even though you gave them 7 days you should normally set diary 14 days if the matter is not urgency then move on to….
Step 4 Send A File Closure Letter
Send a final letter advising the client that you have closed your file and that you will be taking no further action in relation to their case.
If you follow these steps you should be ok. You will can rely on your copies of the letters which you have sent as showing that you had taken all reasonable steps to notify the client that you were closing their file and not working on their case.
A slight variant of the above scenario is where you have agreed to help a potential client but you have asked them to take steps such as providing you with documents or proof of Legal Aid eligibility before you actually open a file. In situation you do not have a File or Case to close. You might not even think of them as your client yet. Nevertheless the potential client may not realise this so it is best to follow a shorter procedure for that they are not left in any doubt. I suggest that a letter is sent confirming the request for instructions and/or information and stating you will not be able to take on their case without this. If they have not responded within a week a further letter should be sent advising that you are not taking the case on.