ETHICS WEEK 19 (LEGAL RESEARCH, CLOSING CASE FILES)
(I) LEGAL RESEARCH; (II) CLOSING OF FILES
:: HINTS ON LEGAL RESEARCH:
– Seeking information…Legal Research should be planned and meticulously carried out.
– The LP should identify what he is looking for, classify it into a legal category, identify applicable law and sift the facts and compress his query into specifics.
– LP should have a good dictionary, citable records of his information and can contact colleagues, seniors, court officials, librarians, etc.
– Certain research work could be assigned to junior in chambers
:: FUNCTIONS AND IMPORTANCE OF LEGAL RESEARCH:
– Acquaints LP with the position of the law. Change is constant and learning never ends.
– Enable him determine justiciability, strengths and weaknesses of client’s case.
– Assist him in preparation for trial and forge course of action. (or giving advise or making representation). Authorities in support of his case can also be found by research.
– Makes LP think on his feet, analyse legal problems and tackle sector specific issues.
:: SOURCES OF MATERIALS IN LEGAL RESEARCH: Nigerian law comprises of Received English Law, Nigerian Legislations, Case Law, Customary Law and Islamic Law. These can be derived form:
– Primary Sources: books of law like various Statutes, Laws, Law Reports, Quran, bye-laws, rules, guidelines, etc.
– Secondary Sources: books about law which provide a guide and are of persuasive (rather than binding) authority. E.g. treatises.
– Tertiary Sources: can be regarded as finding tools which direct a practitioner to where to find the law. E.g. indexes, citators, digests?, etc.
– Hybrid Sources: like loose-leaf services, formbooks, proof of facts, etc.
Note that legal research could be manual or electronic.
:: CLOSING OF FILES; WHEN AND HOW? A file opened for a particular case/endeavour can be closed after a certain period from the final determination of the matter/transaction. Note however that the client’s personal file always remains open.
HOW? The firm/lawyer is to write a letter to the client informing him of closing the file with bill of charges if fees remain outstanding or receipt of payment if payment has already been made. Original copies should be returned to the client. File is closed by drawing two parallel lines across with the words CLOSED (in upper case) written between the parallel lines. Then handed over to the client or kept in the place meant for closed files (i.e. archived) and then it is entered in the register/index of closed files.
:: NECESSARY MATTERS TO BE DEALT WITH IN CLOSING A FILE: consider the fees, custody right (i.e. who should keep it), length of period for keeping files, self assessment/audit, etc.
:: DESTRUCTION OF FILES: the closed file should be retained for a reasonable length of time preferably one or more year longer than the limitation period for the action or subject matter depending on storage capacity of the firm. Afterwhich client should be intimated and then destruction by shredding or burning. Original documents should not be destroyed.