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Paralegal skills and establishing an Advice Centre
Checklist - Best practices for paralegal case-workers
The contents of this checklist are adapted from the Policy and Procedure Manual of the Black Sash. Many of the points have been summarised or changed to make them more general. You will probably still find that the practices given here do not all apply to your organisation. Use this as a guide and adapt it to suit your own needs.
- Should be willing to go the extra mile for advice seekers
- Advice seekers problems are seen as part of a bigger socio-economic problem which needs action from individuals as well as at a collective level
- Dedication and commitment to work
- Understand the core values of the organisation
- Understand what it means to empower somebody
- Have a vision of a society based on a respect for human rights
- Case-work knowledge
Know the material in the paralegal manual and can work with it
Can give information to advice seekers based on the following primary laws:
- Labour Relations Act
- Basic Conditions of Employment Act
- Social Assistance Act and the Regulations
- Prevention of Family Violence Act
- Maintenance Act
- Divorce Act
- UIF Act
Remember: these are just examples; you must write down the laws that are relevant to your organisation's work.
- Understand the following and can work with them:
- Constitution of South Africa
- Socio-economic rights
- GEAR (government's economic policy)
(Others that may be relevant to your organsation's work_
Know the problems experienced by rural advice seekers
Know and understand how to use the State institutions supporting democracy (for example, the SA Human Rights Commission, Public Protector, etc)
Able to identify, contact and refer to the process of -
- Legal aid
- Insurance Ombudsman
- Pension Fund Adjudicator
- Consumer institutes
- Independent Complaints Directorate of SAPS, Correctional Services and other sectors
- Key bargaining councils of five main sectors presenting to the advice centre
- Small claims Court
- Magistrate's Commission and public prosecutions appeal divisions
- Know how the office administration system works in respect of:
- administration systems
- the need for co-operation amongst staff
- the need for honesty
- My interviewing and communication skills need to be excellent so that I can -
- receive people in a respectful manner
- give them undivided attention when they are telling their stories
- show compassion and understanding for their circumstances
- present advice seekers with options to their problems which they can easily understand
- suggest action to deal with problems which is in the advice seekers' best interests and not what I think is best for them
- are tactful in listening and dealing with problems
- are able to assess problems correctly (understand the real problem versus the problem that is presented to you)
- If nothing more can be done for the advice seeker, this is communicated to them.
- My case-recording skills are accurate and people can read what has been written so that -
- anyone can pick up the case and deal with the problem
- it is clear what advice and/or action has been taken in respect of the problem
- Keeping my own records
- I know how to record problems on the computer
- The monthly print-out of problems accurately reflects my work
- I am up to date with recording cases on the computer
- I record any meetings attended
- Referrals procedure
- I can refer advice seekers to appropriate structures when necessary and appropriate. This means I know where to refer them and who to refer them to.
- I send a professionally prepared report with any advice seeker when I refer them
- My time is used effectively
- My follow-up of cases is well planned proactive and consistent
- I record the dates for follow-up in my diary
- I record any financial amounts that have been won on behalf of advice seekers (for example, a grant payment)
- Appointments are made when necessary
- Closing cases
I follow up with advice seekers to make sure that I can close a case and the matter is resolved or that the advice seeker does not need any further help.
My writing is clear for all to read.
My notes are filed in order of date received.
The name of the person is clearly written at the top of the file.
I put the files where others will know where to find them.
All letters have spelling and grammar checked.
All faxes have the fax record stapled to the letter.
- Identification of my learning needs
I am able to identify areas where I am weak in knowledge. I feel free to acknowledge this and will either find the information myself or will ask other staff members for advice.
- Using different remedies
I am able to know what remedies to use to deal with different cases.
- Analysing trends in case-work
I am able to identify trends in the case-work. This means I can identify common problems of advice seekers, identify what is causing the problem and make the necessary interventions to deal with the problems.
- Referring cases to court
- I can identify good test cases that should be referred to court
- I can understand the legal problem involved
- I have done as much work as possible on the case before referring it to a lawyer
- I have all the personal history of the case
- I have kept a file of all the documentation
- I have kept a record of all the work I have done on the file
- I have explained to the client what action will be taken and what the possible outcomes could be of the action
- I will frequently follow up the case with the lawyer
- Meetings with other people and organisations
- I must know who all the role-players are in relation to a given problem
- I must work with members of my organisation and within the organisation's strategy when planning a meeting
- I must inform people in my organisation of the meeting and who will be attending the meeting
- I must gather as much information as possible about the person and/or committee I am about to meet with.
- I must prepare in advance.
- I must decide on priorities in advance.
- I must be on time.
- I must send a follow-up letter to the person thanking them for themeeting and summarising what was agreed.
- I must do a report for my organisation.
- Adult education
- I must consult my organisation on which issues we choose for adult education purposes.
- I must research the topic fully.
- I must choose the appropriate methodology - booklets, posters, workshop, etc
- I must draw up a budget for the event / project
- I must use adult education developmental methodology in all events/projects
- I must do an evaluation on all training done.
- I must do a report for my organisation
Checklist - Preparing for monitoring
This is a checklist to prepare yourself for monitoring public events or incidents like police conflict, community conflict, and registration and voting for elections:
- What are your rights as a monitor, for example when questioned by the police, to get access to police stations?
- What is the law, for example, on public marches, on voter registration?
- What procedures are there for making complaints or taking up cases, for example criminal cases, civil cases, Electoral Commission?
- Where is the nearest police station and what is the name of the station commander?
- What is the background to the event, for example is there a history of conflict between organisations in the area?
- What does the area look like, for example get or draw a map of the streets and places.
- What are the names of organisations in the area and who are the contact people in these?
- What are the names, addresses and numbers of services and resources you can refer to for help, for example clinics, social workers, lawyers, newspapers, and so on.
- pen, spare pen, pencil, rubber, notebook or clipboard
- checklists and incident sheets
- know-your-rights pamphlets
- contact numbers - for example, lawyers, doctors, police, organisations
- personal identification for example, ID book
- money, drink and food
- medication, for example, pain pills, bandages, disinfectant
- camera and films
- binoculars (if available)
- armband or identification card to identify you as a monitor
- strong shoes
- raincoat, cap, hanky or scarf
- no activist badges and T-shirts
- Planning and teamwork
- Briefing session - for example, to work out strategy, to answer queries of monitors.
- Role-playing difficult situations - for example, being confronted by the police.
- Setting up a communication network for your own organisation - for example, a coordinator, meeting-points, messenger system.
- Setting up a team with monitors from other organisations.
- Having back-up people on stand-by to help and do follow-up work.
- Dividing up into pairs to work together.
- Discussing a code of conduct for your monitors.
Checklist - Monitoring follow-up
This is a checklist for doing follow-up work after monitoring public events and incidents:
- Report back verbally to your coordinator or organisation.
- Pass on your incident sheets to your coordinator or organisation.
- Pass on your statements to your coordinator, organisation or lawyer (remember to date your statements and add your name and contact number).
- Develop photographs and pass on these and any other evidence (for example, bullets, medical certificates) to your coordinator, organisation or lawyer (remember to date your photographs and write where they were taken in pencil on the back)
- Do your written report and pass this on to your coordinator or organisation.
- Take necessary action steps, for example:
- go to the police station
- find witnesses
- go to the hospital or clinic
- follow up with the police by letter or fax
- Coordinate with other organisations or structures, for example, other political or community groups, other monitoring groups.
- Contact and work with the press, for example:
- pass on information
- write a press statement
- set up a press conference
- give an interview or organise interviews
- Have a debriefing session - this means giving all the monitors a chance to talk about what happened, for example:
- to share information
- to assess how it went, and work out strategies for future monitoring
- to counsel monitors, and arrange for counselling for monitors who have been through a traumatic experience
Checklist - Mediation code of conduct
This is a checklist of rules and procedures which you can get each side to agree on before you start to run a mediation session:
- Trust and respect for the chairperson (who will be the mediator) and the mediating team (if there is more than one person).
- Should there be translation and who should do it?
- Is the venue secure and neutral?
- Do the chairs and tables have to be re-arranged?
- Size and leadership of delegations.
- Should observers be allowed?
- Agreeing to behave in a polite and disciplined manner.
- No interrupting of other speakers.
- No verbal abuse and shouting.
- No physical intimidation (for example, pointing) and violence.
- No presence and carrying of weapons.
- Should smoking, drinking and eating be allowed?
- No distracting behaviour, for example, caucusing while the other side is speaking.
- How long should the sessions be?
- Equal time for each side to speak and who should speak first.
- Opportunity to caucus and consult when necessary.
- How should the mediation be minuted?
- What parts of the discussion should be confidential?
- How should the agreement be reported back to members?
- Should the outcome of the mediation be publicised and how?
Checklist - Tips for mediators
This is a checklist of things you can do as a mediator to make a mediation session run better:
- Explain that the purpose of mediation is to get the two sides to discuss things and to get a voluntary agreement between the two sides.
- Apply the rules and procedures that both sides have agreed on to both sides equally. Politely remind people when they break the rules.
- Always stay impartial. This means you keep your personal opinions to yourself and be careful of the way you address people. For example, if you call people 'comrade', or 'ladies and gentlemen', will this suit all the people who are there?
- Be aware of personal tensions between the sides. If possible, try to get these out of the way before going on, or at least stress that people should avoid being personal.
- Encourage each side to listen and to keep a note of questions and comments.
- Give each side a chance to state their position fully before allowing questions and answers.
- Give each side a chance to start off speaking, and then alternate this (this means give each side a chance to speak first).
- Announce the time allowed for each speaking turn, for example, 5 minutes each.
- Inform people when they have one minute of speaking time left.
- Whenever it is useful, summarise the main points and ask both sides if they are happy with your summary.
- Make notes of questions asked and practical solutions suggested.
- If a speaker makes very general or vague points or accusations, encourage the speaker to be more specific.
- Try to encourage agreement on easier and less heated issues first.
- To encourage both sides to compromise, suggest that for mediation to succeed, a 'give-and-take' attitude is needed, rather than a 'winner-take-all' approach.
- If one side admits something or makes a compromise, then encourage the other side to respond.
- If things are very heated, suggest a short break, or ask the sides to hold the particular issue till later.
- If there is a deadlock (no progress on an issue), try to break it by speaking separately to each side.
- If one side says something important in the separate meeting with the mediator, encourage them to say it directly to the other side.
- To start moving to an agreement, link the different solutions suggested by either side and add alternative solutions from the chair (especially solutions which make both sides do something, for example, both sides agree not to attack members of the other side).
- When drawing up an agreement, first list the things that force both sides to do something. Then list the different things that each side needs to do, alternating them (that means, first one from side A and then one from side B). Lastly, write down what will happen if anyone breaks the agreement.