The Role And Duties Of Litigation Officers In Legal Practice1
Litigation officers, often called litigation assistants or clerks are fixtures in many Nigerian law firms, due to the vital nature of their services. The roles and duties of these officers in a law firm cannot be underestimated, as they work together with counsel in chambers in performing crucial administrative duties. Litigation officers handle both internal and external legal concerns, and strictly operate following the instructions of counsel for proper monitoring of all legal affairs within the law firm. These officers usually have knowledge of matters in their firms and carry out administrative tasks in respect of these matters, such as filing court processes, and dispatching confidential client documents, and correspondences.
- Who is a Litigation Officer?
A litigation officer or litigation assistant is a legal professional who completes work—typically administrative — on behalf of a lawyer. The exact role and responsibilities of litigation officers can vary depending on a law firm's specific needs. However, litigation officers / assistants have been categorized as individuals whose work output includes some administrative and secretarial tasks to assist an attorney.2
Litigation officers perform a wide range of administrative tasks, including conducting research, performing limited legal analyses and preparing basic legal documents. They also assist lawyers in preparing their cases, which include reviewing, preparing and filing legal documents, such as affidavits, legal complaints and petitions. In preparing legal documents, the prepared paperwork should adhere to legal standards and contain the correct information as dictated by the lawyers.
Additionally, litigation officers often collect and assemble evidence along with supporting documentation for trial purposes. Furthermore, litigation officers often ensure the proper documentation of communications between clients and lawyers in a firm, and may keep logs of client conversations, if assigned that responsibility. This is mostly dependent on the size and structure of the law firm in question.
- Duties and Responsibilities of Litigation Officers
As earlier stated, litigation officers perform record keeping and administrative duties in law offices and firms. Their primary duties include maintaining legal records, completing paperwork and organizing a solicitor's workload (day-to-day tasks of counsel), etcetera. Excellent litigation officers need to pay great attention to detail, as they provide administrative support to lawyers and clients of a law firm.
The main duties and responsibilities of litigation officers include:
- "Aiding in the preparation and review of documents papers, letters, and the like.
- Filing documents in court.
- Readying materials for trial proceedings including documents, evidence and verifying factual information.
- Dispatch of documents, letters, papers and the like.
- Assisting counsel with file opening, updates and other such administrative matter.
- Printing, photocopying and reproducing business correspondence, letters and email.
- Organizing the law library and purchasing weekly reports or books.
- Collecting and updating client information and maintaining paper and electronic records.
- Co-ordinating client appointments, including all correspondence and logistics necessary. (This is in rare instances)."3
A substantial portion of the duties of a litigation officer are performed in an office, though they may also spend some time in the courthouses and in transit to various assigned locations for dispatch.
- Qualifications of a Typical Litigation officer4
A candidate for the position of litigation officer should possess certain minimum qualifications and skills that are needed for the execution of their duties.
Some of these qualifications and skills are as follows:
- "Proficiency in word processing software, such as MS Office.
- Strong administrative and clerical skills.
- Ability to operate office equipment such as photocopiers, scanners etcetera.
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
- Attention to detail and accuracy.
- Knowledge of court procedures and ability to work as part of a team.
- Analytical skills and ability to take initiative.
- Ability to meet up with deadlines and work under stressful situations.
- Ability to use legal software such as NextCounsel.
- Legal research skills."5
- Experience Requirements
The ideal amount of professional experience a litigation officer should possess varies from one law office to another. A junior litigation officer should be able to prepare basic legal documents to the required standards, handle office management software and legal industry software as well as manage schedules for both clients and lawyers. While a junior litigation officer has less legal experience, such an officer should still be capable of reading and understanding the main practice area(s) of the law firm. On the other hand, a senior litigation officer requires more experience, particularly the sort of experience that aligns with the type of law practiced by the law firm. This includes the ability to draft, review and docket sector-specific agreements for use by others in the practice. Also, a senior litigation officer should be capable of maintaining legal templates for use by others. They should also have experience in supporting lawyers with their daily duties and have existing/practical knowledge of the relevant areas of law practiced by the law firm. A senior-level litigation officer position requires three to five years of experience in the field.
Most law firms prefer litigation officers with some experience with legal research and procedures. Some law firms may prefer law school graduates who were active participants in a variety of student groups, such as a trial team, or who wrote for the law journal of their school.
- Education and Training Requirements6
The education requirement for a Litigation Officer position varies depending on the employing law firm. However, a Bachelor's degree or Higher National Diploma in legal studies is usually a baseline requirement. Most individuals who wish to become litigation officers will usually have completed a bachelor's degree or HND degree.
In Nigeria, most litigation officers receive on-the-job training, which usually includes the basic processes related to the firm's practice. It may also include learning about specific types of computer software or systems used by the firm.
- Challenges faced by Litigation officers
- Labor-intensive tasks and work overload
Litigation officers may be bogged by tedious and time-consuming tasks, and this can make them experience a lower rate of job satisfaction.
- Accumulation of Cases
All law firms usually have several matters and documents that need to be finalized and completed. Since the drafting or vetting of these documents takes a large amount of time, it inevitably produces case accumulation over time. This in-turn leads to longer turnaround times and lower end-user satisfaction.
To overcome these problems, automating the different processes in law firms can greatly help in taking the load off litigation officers and thus providing them the time to take care of things that are very important.
Litigation officers are the administrative live wires of a law firm, as their roles and functions assist law firms to run smoothly. Indeed, every standard law firm would do well to have at least one litigation officer on board.
1 Justina Olayinka, Secretary, Secretarial Unit, S.P.A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos, Nigeria.
2 Sharon Miki (2008), https://www.clio.com/blog/what-is-a-legal-assistant/, accessed on 25th June 2022.
4 See uk.indeed.com/hire/job-description/legal-assistant?hl=en&co=GB, accessed on 25th June 2022.
5 See https://www.bosstaff.com/2020/07/26/legal-assistant-skills/ accessed on 25th June 2022.
6 See uk.indeed.com/hire/job-description/legal-assistant?hl=en&co=GB, accessed on 25th June 2022.
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