There are several types of knowledge management depositories such as casework, policy information, and institutional memory. Your organization should maintain up to date records of each of these types of knowledge. These knowledge stores will help you determine the best approach to take for a client, which cases to appeal, and could serve as a guide to addressing errors in status determination or credibility concerns. They will also help you with the development and management of your legal aid program. This page will discuss the different types of knowledge that are related to the management of a legal aid program such as casework, storing policy information, and institutional memory.
Cataloguing aspects of casework such as legal strategies, useful legal arguments, templates, indexing outcomes of impact cases, and country of origin information will help to maintain a high quality of work across different legal advisors or through an extended period of time. It will also help you to develop strategies that help legal advisors in their work and allow you to see how your legal strategies have developed over time.
It may be convenient to store legal strategies and successful legal arguments of individual services provided so that your team does not have to come up with new strategies and arguments when the facts are similar to previous successful cases.
This type of knowledge repository differs from using templates because recording legal strategies is not restricted to storing the argument itself. It can also include storing the analysis of unsuccessful arguments, and possible counter arguments. It might be useful to store briefs and minutes from strategies meetings in a database or filing system so that your advocates can access this information.
Legal argument templates and standard paragraphs
Templates of legal petitions can be useful references for legal advocates. There are different types of templates that can be developed, from a basic structure for a legal petition, to a complete argument, or a standard paragraph on a specific topic
Templates that guide the structure of a legal petition – from statement of facts, to arguing the elements of the eligibility for refugee status – are essential tools that support protocols on case procedures and facilitate drafting of high quality of legal arguments across the organization and between different legal advocates.
In some contexts, petitions are so similar that it does not make sense for your advocates to draft original work for each client. For example, each refugee petition that Asylum Access files in Ecuador is identical except for the name and ID number. A template facilitates the legal advocate’s work and ensures that in each case the necessary arguments are raised.
In other instances, templates may aid in the drafting of more complex petitions. A well-written appeal can be an excellent starting point for a new petition. An approved appeal template may also help your organization avoid errors such as addressing the petition to the wrong body, or omitting a piece of biographical information that is required by law.
Another way of cataloguing successful arguments is in standard paragraphs. Standard paragraphs can be especially useful when the argument drafted can contribute to other cases, even when the individual circumstances of the cases differ. Examples of elements in a legal argument that are suitable for a block text are arguments addressing procedural breaches during the status determination interview, relevance and/or reasonableness of an internal flight alternative, or a nexus argument.
However, you will have to be careful that your legal advocates do not rely too heavily on the work of their predecessors. You should always insist that your advocates re-evaluate each piece of copied information that goes into a new petition because different situations and diverse clients may require different strategies.
Country of Origin Information
Country of origin information (COI) is crucial to the RSD process. COI informs legal advocates about the political, social, cultural, economic, and human rights situation in the client’s country of origin and helps advocates to corroborate a client’s declaration and substantiate the objective fear of persecution. Governments also use Country of Origin information to assess whether the RSD applicant’s fear of persecution is well founded.
Organizations can use a COI database to make frequently used COI easily accessible, or to create standard paragraphs on specific recurring topic such as conversion in a particular country, or the treatment of a particular ethnic group. A COI database can also be used to store specific successful arguments that rely heavily on COI and to store expert opinions.
Similar to the legal argument templates, legal advocates should not rely too heavily on the work of their predecessors. Each case should be argued on their individual merits, and while the core of the claim may be similar, the information should always be reviewed and updated, tailored to the specific circumstances of the individual, and additional information fitting the individual profile researched in online COI databases.
Index of outcomes from impact litigation
It is important to track the outcomes of impact litigation cases so that you and your team are aware of trends in court rulings over time, and to catalogue how outcomes of impact cases have affected or aided the development of legal aid strategies and policies (see below). This information could also help when you speak to donors because you would have concrete data to show your organizations work on a specific issue over time.
You may identify that legal needs and possibilities for legal aid interventions are different for each community. This will not only be reflected in your casework, but will also in your office policies. For example, some segments of a population may have such a solid refugee claim that legal assistance can be limited to providing information about the process (see CLE), while another segment may need a complex legal argument to argue their qualification for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or local asylum laws.
Your legal advocates and staff will need to stay up to date on policy developments in the country in which you work and on your organizations’ protocols in order to effectively advocate for clients. Storing policy information is also useful to record position papers for refugees from a particular country or region. As a result, you may want to establish a system to store: memos from UNHCR and the national government on RSD developments, and protocols for working with different populations.
UNHCR or the national government may issue memos updating their RSD policies or procedures. It is important that your office track and store these memos so that your staff is familiar with the most recent developments. It may also be useful to record how the legal services community has responded to these memos by changes in policy, an advocacy program or a particular focus in the legal petitions. Your office position papers and background memos analyzing country situations and eligibility for refugee status can be useful references to document why your office has adopted certain strategies. Your staff may benefit from knowing how other groups have reacted to changes in the asylum adjudication process and what strategies have been successful.
Protocols and manuals
Protocols can be helpful resources for legal advocates because they detail all the necessary steps to take to complete a task. A manual is a comprehensive guide covering all aspects of a service provided by the organization, for example an RSD legal aid manual.
Both protocols and manuals are often very detailed and contain information about practical aspects of the process such as where to get a document notarized or which official to ask for at a specific office. It is useful to record these protocols somewhere that all advocates can update them. This will help ensure that the protocols are always up to date. Below is a sample protocol for a family reunification petition. For more information about case protocols, please refer to the case procedures section.
Sample family reunification protocol
To apply for family reunification, you should take the following steps:
- In the intake interview, establish that a qualifying relationship to a recognized refugee exists. If the client is related to an asylum seeker, he or she may be able to join the petition, but he or she cannot apply for reunification. If the client is related to a local citizen or someone with an immigrant visa, see the family immigration petition protocol.
- During the intake interview, examine if the client has an underlying asylum claim to evaluate whether reunification or a separate asylum petition is best.
- If you decide that reunification is the appropriate option, request that the client bring all of the necessary documents to prove the qualifying relationship. These include:
- The relative’s refugee document (Absolute must!)
- Official proof of relationship (birth certificate, adoption certificate, marriage certificate, etc.)
- *NOTE—some officials, for example, John Doe the eligibility officer, assert that these documents need to be notarized. This is not the case (see Refugee Decree Art. 17). If John or anyone else will not accept an un-notarized document, ask your manager to contact the Refugee Director personally. He understands the law, and will make sure that it is applied.
- If no official proof of the relationship is available, you need to provide a sworn, notarized statement of the relationship and supporting documents such as photos (e.g. wedding photos), letters, emails, academic documents showing the relationship, mortgages, etc. The best notaries to use are Notary 21 (on 5th Avenue and 1st Street, behind the KFC) and Notary 12 (at the corner beside the refugee office—ask for David). Other notaries charge too much or won’t work with foreigners.
- Once you have all of the necessary documents, fill out this letter. The client should hand deliver it to the third floor of the refugee office. They only accept reunification petitions on Thursdays, from 9 – 11 am. The refugee office should provide a response within 2 weeks. If after 4 weeks there is no response, call Lewis, the office administrator, on his cell phone (xxxx).
Knowledge about how your organization works and how best to accomplish tasks is often held within your staff. Examples of institutional memory include strategic or program planning sessions, program management grids, and job descriptions. When staff members and volunteers leave, much of this institutional memory can be lost or the reasoning behind a particular course of action may be forgotten unless your office has a system in place to ensure that it is stored.
There are a few steps that you can take to ensure that your organization preserves this knowledge.
- Build an explicit strategy to record institutional knowledge, and update it when changes are made to the way the program is ran.
- Identify a few key procedures that you want every member of your team to know or be able to do.
- Use technology that allows live updating such as Google docs to create a process by which all members of your team continually record and curate institutional knowledge.