Sending Instructions by email in civil cases

The start of the Coronavirus pandemic in early 2020 accelerated the trend for Instructions to barristers to increasingly be sent by email and I generally prefer to receive instructions in this way. Individual barristers will prefer to do work in different ways when they receive instructions sent by email. Some will print everything out, some may work entirely from computer, and many will print out key documents but refer to other documents on their computer. But even those barristers who instinctively print everything out will very often prefer to receive instructions by email because it means they are received earlier and can be printed wherever the barrister happens to be at the time.

Traditional Paper Instructions

The traditional way of assembling paper instructions involved inserting cardboard tabs before each document. Tab 1 might contain a copy of the Register of Title for one property, Tab 2 the Register of Title for another property, Tab 3 a conveyance dated 1 September 1950, etc. Usually there is one tab for each key document, and then some tabs might contain groups of documents such as inter partes correspondence. The Instructions to Counsel are then accompanied by a typed List of attachments for Counsel by means of TAB numbering which lists each document with its tab number - e.g.

Tab 1        Register of Title SY123456

Tab 2        Register of Title SY654321

Tab 3        Conveyance dated 1 September 1950



Tab 20        Inter partes correspondence

Individual documents are then referred to in the Instructions to Counsel either by description (e.g. Conveyance dated 1 September 1950) or by tab number (e.g. Tab 3).

Instructions by Email        

When sending Instructions to Counsel by email it is tempting to attach to the email the individual documents referred to simply by tapping attach and selecting the documents from your computer folder. This is fine as long as

  • Every document attached is referred to in the Instructions to Counsel with its filename - e.g. "The client wrote to them on 15 January (Ltr Hanson.pdf) pointing out that.."
  • There are not too many documents attached - 10 documents attached is fine, for example
But if there are a significant number of documents they need to be provided in logical order and this will normally mean combining documents together in one or more PDFs. The name of each such PDF can then be referred to in the Instructions to Counsel:

"It can be seen from the inter partes correspondence (TAB6.pdf) that matters have now reached an impasse"  

When creating the PDF, ensure that the documents within it are bookmarked and are in logical - generally chronological - order. 

The Instructions themselves

Traditionally the actual instructions in paper form started with a formal heading for the case and ended with a backsheet the purpose of which was to act like the cover of a book (when the instructions were folded and tied with pink ribbon). When sending Instructions by email, the instructions themselves can be sent as a PDF using the traditional format, complete with backsheet, if desired, but it is equally acceptable if instead the email body itself is the instructions. The format is not of primary importance. What is important is that instructions give the background, identify the client's overall objectives, and indicate the scope of any advice sought - i.e. what, in general terms, is Counsel asked to do or to advise about?


Trial Bundles and other hearing bundles

Unless otherwise requested, please send trial bundles, and other hearing bundles, in PDF form. If the bundle is very large I might ask you to send a hardcopy but this is not normally necessary.

This page was lasted updated in July 2020          Disclaimer