Responses to recent media enquiries
Civil coverage and clinic services
Monday, April 12, 2010
Legal Aid Ontario provided information to the Toronto Star in response to a media enquiry received April 9, 2010. What follows is LAO's response to the Toronto Star's questions for the article "Legal aid cuts funding for civil cases" published Saturday, April 10th, 2010.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Thanks for your interest in Legal Aid Ontario. Below, please find our responses to your questions.
1. I understand the VP notified clinics yesterday that legal aid certificates will no longer be issued for civil cases, such as personal injury claims, claims against disability insurers for reinstatement of long-term disability insurance, lawsuits for abuse in institutions, malicious prosecution and real estate actions. Is this correct and, if so, is the change effective immediately? How much does LAO expect to save with this move? And what are the plans for certificates in other areas of the law, such as criminal and family? Will certificates in these areas be scaled back as well and, if so, can you give me some idea of how many fewer will be issued?
It is important to keep in mind that when LAO’s policy on civil litigation/other civil coverage was last revised, contingency fee arrangements were still not available in Ontario. The fact that they are available now means that there is a viable alternative to legal aid coverage for low-income persons who have a meritorious civil claim.
In keeping with LAO’s commitment to ensure maximize the use of public funds, LAO has updated its policy on civil litigation/other civil coverage. Beginning 1 April, 2010 civil certificates will continue to be issued for O’Connor/Mills applications and Test cases (as approved by the LAO Group Applications and Test Cases Committee. Civil opinion certificates, most of which never get past the opinion letter stage because they lack merit, will be eliminated.
Legal Aid Ontario issues more than 100,000 certificates to low-income people each year, 600 of which, about a ½ percent of all certificates issued, are for civil matters not traditionally covered by Legal Aid Ontario. The majority of these certificates are for opinion letters and not full representation.
About 5 per cent of civil certificates (approximately 25 certificates per year) are for O’Connor/Mills applications (responding to applications for disclosure of confidential records in criminal proceedings). Another 10 percent (approximately 50-60 certificates per year) are for test cases approved by LAO’s Group Applications and Test Cases Committee. Most of the civil certificates that LAO issues (85 per cent in 2008-2009) are opinion certificates, most of which do not get past the opinion letter stage (either because the matter is judged to be lacking in merit, or because the certificate is unacknowledged).
2. I also understand that CEO Bob Ward has said he thinks it would be more effective to have about 30 to 40 community legal clinics as opposed to nearly 70? Is this so? Is Legal Aid considering scaling back somewhat on the number of clinics and, if so, is it purely a monetary issue? Or does LAO have concerns that the clinics system has grown old and needs to be refreshed? Have also heard that Bob Ward has expressed concerns the clinic system is not innovative like in the U.S. If so, what does he mean by that? Can you provide at least one example?
Can you say which clinics could be affected?
There is no plan or idea that there would be a reduction in the number of clinics. Mr. Ward advised representatives of the ACLCO of this at a meeting on March 26, 2010. In the last three years, LAO has even added to the clinic community with funding in 2007 for SALCO.
Several clinics have been involved in mergers that have resulted in improved client service and less administrative overhead. These mergers have gone smoothly. LAO has facilitated these processes. There has also been unofficial discussion for some time within the clinic community itself that other mergers should be considered to ensure better service. LAO is not involved in these discussions but would assist if asked.
LAO is developing a consultation paper, which the clinics are aware of, to serve as a basis for identify opportunities to improve efficiencies and create better value for taxpayer dollars for the delivery of poverty law services. The paper makes no mention of closing clinics whatsoever. It discusses costs that could be reviewed for greater effectiveness such as rent, audit costs, and general administration. During the March 26 teleconference between LAO and clinic association representatives expressed positive interest in discussing these matters. There is no suggestion of any client service being affected. The clinics themselves report that they spend about 19% of their total budget on administration. We believe this should be examined to see if could be reduced.
3. Is the Clinic Resource Office going to be closed?
LAO’s modernization strategy takes into consideration the requirement to be always be prudent with public money particularly at a time of economic restraint. The reduction to the CRO budget was made as a small part of LAO’s much larger overall modernization strategy. The revised CRO budget remains substantial at $1.7 million for 2010-2011, with a staff complement of 12.6 full time equivalent staff. With these resources and funding in place, the CRO will continue to provide excellent supports and services for which it is valued by LAO and clinics.
Changes to the CRO budget are part of a larger LAO wide modernization strategy launched several years ago to reduce administrative costs and improve services and access for clients. As part of this initiative LAO has been increasing the use of technology to help improve our processes and identify efficiencies. To date, LAO has successfully taken steps to significantly reduce administration by nearly two thirds, resulting in a forecasted cost savings of more than $20 million in 2010-11 or about 6 percent of LAO’s overall operating budget.
4. I understand the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario has given the MAG and LAO an April 22 deadline for providing assurances that, among other things, clinic budgets will not be cut for the upcoming year and that no "transformation" or "modernization" of the clinic system will take place without full consultation with the clinics. What does LAO have to say in response to this?
LAO is developing a consultation paper to serve as a basis for discussion, which the clinics are aware of, to serve as a basis for identify opportunities to improve efficiencies and create better value for taxpayer dollars for the delivery of poverty law services. We expect to share the paper with the clinics in the near future.
5. Is the projected LAO deficit for the coming year $11 million, primarily because of reduced revenues at the Law Foundation of Ontario?
We cannot confirm your deficit estimate, but yes Law Foundations are expected to be much lower than in the last number of years.
6. Is LAO attempting to shift more towards providing information to Ontarians through more cost-effective methods such as telephone and web-based services and is the thinking that it has just become too expensive to have lawyers represent clients on an individual basis?
LAO is responding to client need. Not all clients require the full representation of a lawyer. LAO has had a very successful history of applying this principle with our duty counsel program which receives more than $35 million dollars in funding annually.
Over the last couple of years Legal Aid Ontario has been increasing the use of technology to help improve our processes and reduce our administrative costs and invest savings in direct client services. This includes:
Simplifying client legal aid application process
We've made it easier and faster for clients to apply for a legal aid certificate. LAO has introduced a simplified application process for clients. This process reduces the time required to complete an application by 62 per cent and frees up resources that can be reinvested in direct client services. Sixty three per cent of clients receive a same day decision on their legal aid application, which allows them to begin moving forward with their legal matters.
Increasing access to legal aid services
Clients can access a full-range of legal aid services over the phone, including applying for certificates. The toll-free number is 1-800-668-8258 press 0, and there are no coins required, even from a payphone. Collect calls accepted.
The number also provides access to other legal aid services such as summary family and criminal legal advice from a lawyer for eligible clients, general information, and referrals to other social service agencies. All of these services are available in 120 languages through simultaneous translation. Phone services provide a more convenient access point for clients facing language barriers or transportation challenges. The toll-free number connects clients to legal aid employees in communities across the province. In January 2010, more than 10,000 people contacted us toll-free for legal aid assistance.
Increased online information and resources for clients
We have redesigned and re-launched our website (www.legalaid.on.ca), introducing changes to make the site more user-friendly. The revised site provides access to information about legal aid services, and other online resources and information. Since launching the site in late November, the site has had more than 175,500 visitors, and three quarters of a million page views.
More payment methods for clients
Legal Aid Ontario clients with contribution agreements no longer need to visit a legal aid office to make payments. Instead, payments can now be made at any bank location in Ontario. Clients do not need to have a bank account, and there is no fee for making a payment. This alternative also saves a trip to a legal aid office.
Improvements for legal aid lawyers
LAO has introduced online tools that expedite the certificate acknowledgment process (which confirms a clients' status and authorizes lawyers doing work on behalf of legal aid clients to begin working on a case). This process is all done online, so that lawyers no longer have to contact or request confirmation from a legal aid office.
Improving staff to management ratio
LAO is improving its staff to management ratio significantly by 50 per cent.
As a result of these and other improvements, LAO will reduce overall administrative costs by $ 22.7 million in 2010- while improving services for clients.
Can you give me an example of clinics that have merged?
An example of a clinic merger is the amalgamation of the Kenora Community Legal Clinic and the Rainy River District Community Legal Clinic into the Northwest Community Legal Clinic.
Here is a link to a release on our website:
For more information
For more information please contact:
Manager, Communications and Media Relations