Responses to recent media enquiries
Clinic Resource Office (CRO)
April 5, 2010
Legal Aid Ontario supplied information to the Law Times in response to a media enquiry received April 5, 2010. What follows is LAO's response to the Law Times' questions for the article "Clinics sounding alarm on resource office cutbacks" Monday, April 12th, 2010.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Thank you very much for your interest in Legal Aid Ontario. I always welcome an opportunity to tell the media about what is going on at Legal Aid Ontario.
I have provided responses to your questions below as well as some background information about some of the significant improvements LAO is making to reduce administration and improve services for clients.
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.
LAO’s modernization strategy extends to all parts of the organization, including private bar lawyers who provide services for our clients. The recent Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by LAO, the Criminal Lawyers Association and the Ministry of the Attorney General included a commitment to by the private bar to support LAO in meeting modernization targets.
LAO’s modernization strategy takes into consideration the requirement to 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.
Other LAO modernization strategies initiatives include:
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 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 accountability and coordination
Legal Aid Ontario’s new service delivery model improves coordination and accountability of legal aid services and builds upon our regional system by establishing districts in each region. In order to streamline administrative processes and direct more resources to client services, 51 individual area offices have been replaced with nine District offices across the province with centralized functions, including the area committee process, and certificate and panel management responsibilities.
As a result of these and other initiatives, LAO will has been able to maintain client services and reduce overall administrative costs by $ 22.7 million in 2010-11.
I'd like to know whether there are plans to merge the CRO with LAO LAW
Legal Aid Ontario is always open to exploring opportunities that would lead to administrative efficiencies and increased flexibility in order to better enable LAO to deploy resources depending on the demands being presented.
Are you worried that the capacity for systemic litigation will be severely reduced when the barrister service becomes part-time and there are no litigation assistants?
Clinics have significant expertise in conducting systemic litigation – this expertise together with the support of a part time barrister at LAO who will continue to play an important litigation support role to clinics, will help to maintain the litigation capacity of clinics.
(Grouped the next two questions together)
Won't the efficiency of legal clinics be negatively affected by cuts to the CRO when individual clinics take on its research functions, instead of the centralized source it currently acts as.
Can clinics maintain the same level of service to clients with a reduced mandate for CRO?
The CRO mandate has not changed nor is it being closed or eliminated. The new CRO budget is substantial at $1.7 million for 2010-2011, with a staff complement of 12.6 full time and part time staff. The revised budget allocation will allow the CRO to continue providing excellent supports and services for which it is valued by LAO and clinics.
Have legal clinics been consulted about the future of the CRO. If so, what have their main concerns been and how have you answered those concerns.
LAO values input and feedback and regularly consults with stakeholders. With this in mind, the CRO regularly obtains input from clinics regarding its services, including an ongoing caseworker advisory committee and needs assessment. Recently, some clinic staff members participated in a survey about prioritizing CRO services going forward.
Will the Lawyer Workforce Strategy be applied to CRO lawyer positions and are you worried that it would reduce the specialization in clinic law issues?
The Lawyer Workforce Strategy is part of a LAO’s talent management system designed to provide rewarding and challenging careers for lawyers, and to improve client service by creating a dynamic, and flexible workforce that is in tune with how the organization works as a whole, and how substantive areas of law and the needs of our clients intersect.
All new lawyer positions after May 1, 2009 are included in the Lawyer Workforce Strategy (LWS) rotation program. Although newly hired lawyers are required to participate in rotations; this will not mean that lawyers will only spend two years in any one function. The LWS contemplates that LAO will require access to specialized legal resources for certain positions within LAO.
Lawyers participating in LAO’s LWS will eventually, after gaining foundational knowledge and experience in a variety of areas, land in a permanent role, brining with them a wealth of knowledge and expertise.
Additionally, lawyers hired prior to the LWS launch can opt out of the rotation program.
Are you worried that a reduced role for the CRO is a step in the wrong direction, given the increased integration and co-operation called for between clinics in Karen Cohl and George Thomson's report to the Law Foundation of Ontario, "Connecting Across Language and Distance".
Annually, LAO provides more than $65 million in funding to clinics in Ontario, or about 19 per cent of the organizations overall revenue budget. This allocation includes funding for the CRO. Despite the change to its budget, the CRO budget remains substantial at $1.7 million for 2010-2011, with a staff complement of 12.6 full time equivalent staff including a part-time barrister. The CRO has the resources to continue providing excellent supports and services for which it is valued by LAO and clinics.
For more information
For more information please contact:
Manager, Communications and Media Relations