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Eyes on LAO

Making an 'IMPAC' on the Future of Legal Aid

Posted on: Wednesday, March 12 /08

More than 40 years after the launch of the first legal assistance plan and a decade after access to justice for low-income Ontarians was enshrined in legislation, LAO is laying the foundation for the future delivery of legal aid services in Ontario.

A new management strategy is guiding the organization's implementation of its Value Agenda to identify savings that will be re-invested into services and draw on ideas generated from extensive discussions with staff and stakeholders.

By 2012, the internally generated improvements will create an additional $19 million of legal aid value

Recognizing that more needs to be done to provide legal aid services for low-income Ontarians, the provincial government is adding $51 million to LAO's budget over the next three years. At the end of that period, LAO's budgetary base will be $19 million more than today.

The goal of the Value Agenda is to match the government's $19 million increase to LAO's base funding with an equal amount of additional savings, or value added improvements.

By 2012, the internally generated improvements will create an additional $19 million of legal aid value.

All reasonable options will be considered to create this added value - whether it is applying new technology or eliminating overlap and duplication, or making choices with the biggest impact for clients.

IMPAC

To achieve this, LAO has devised a management strategy to govern the next five years of the organization's development. The "IMPAC" principles of Innovation, Measurement, Prioritization, Accountability and Co-ordination will drive every level of our operation:

  • Innovation: Establish an even more vigorous corporate culture that allows ideas to come forward and embraces new approaches to solving problems.

  • Measurement: Create and implement modern tools to measure LAO's performance, identify our successes, and inform our decisions.

  • Prioritization: Set up inclusive and accountable processes and criteria for making clear and principled decisions on LAO's priorities and the allocation of resources.

  • Accountability: Ensure clear, sound management and financial accountability systems are in place throughout LAO, leaving no doubt where responsibility lies for taking action and making decisions at all levels; and scrupulously follow the legislation governing LAO and setting out its precise roles and functions.

  • Coordination: Maximize impact for clients by improving coordination of legal aid services and ensuring LAO is managed in a way to create synergy among programming and administrative functions.

The money saved by applying the Value Agenda and IMPAC strategy will be re-invested, with two-thirds directed to increasing services to clients and one-third in modernizing Legal Aid Ontario as an institution so it can operate more efficiently.

The new strategy has already begun to show results

In July 2007, LAO announced that Provincial head office and several other smaller offices are co-locating in one location in downtown Toronto. The new office space is being reconfigured using modern open office design and layout practices. These practices and the co-location of offices will ultimately reduce LAO space requirements and save $900,000 a year.

That is nearly $10 million in savings over the next decade, which will be re-invested in client services.

Another exciting project on the horizon is a simplified application process for clients. Once fully operational, clients will be able to submit legal aid applications through community service providers and lawyers across the province, instead of visiting a legal aid office.

Quantum sessions

The inspiration for much of LAO's new management strategy and initiatives flowed from an internal strategic planning initiative called Quantum. An exhaustive series of more than 50 meetings with staff were held across the province beginning in late 2006, accompanied by a round of area planning sessions with organizations, programs and agencies that serve our clients.

These Quantum sessions provided an opportunity to tap into the leadership that exists at all levels of the organization and to help shape LAO's final plan. It provided a province-wide platform for LAO to clearly and succinctly define its legislated role in the justice system and compare that definition with the work the organization was doing.

High quality legal aid services

Empowered by the Legal Aid Services Act of 1998, Legal Aid Ontario's mandate is to administer a cost effective and efficient system of high quality legal aid services for low income Ontarians.

Legal Aid Ontario provides assistance through a network of 51 area offices and 80 community legal clinics, including 18 specialty clinics. In all, LAO helps over a million low-income Ontarians through the clinic services, duty counsel services and the legal aid certificate program, which grants legal representation from a pool of private bar lawyers who accept legal aid work.

A critical element in the pursuit of social justice in Ontario

The province-wide strategic deliberations made it clear that LAO's development has been considerable and the organization has been a critical element in the pursuit of social justice in Ontario. The Quantum sessions also made it clear that despite these achievements, LAO needed to realign to be as effective as possible in a rapidly changing public environment. To get there, LAO had to answer some questions.

How can LAO not only maintain current service levels, but also improve them? What steps can be taken today to ensure that an appropriate infrastructure is in place to meet the evolving needs of clients? How can the organization continually facilitate and simplify access to legal aid services for low-income Ontarians?

Regional Model

As a first step to realignment, LAO implemented a new corporate reporting structure within the organization. The structure is based upon regional lines, with three Regional Vice Presidents responsible for all LAO operational activity offered in four geographic regions across the province.

This new organizational design is more responsive to the needs of clients and staff and improves the co-ordination of services, while fully engaging local stakeholders in our programs.

The regional model breaks down corporate silos, improves communication, increases coordination of client services and resources and provides clear reporting structures for area offices, regions and LAO as a whole. Regional VPs are responsible for all legal aid services in their regions and have the autonomy to make decisions and influence programming in a way that is responsive to local and corporate needs.

This re-structuring provides a platform from which LAO can achieve its overall business objective: to maximize the impact for low-income Ontarians with the resources available.

Overall business objective: to maximize the impact for low-income Ontarians with the resources available

It creates clearer lines of accountability and puts managers in closer contact with front line staff. In addition, several internal departments and services were realigned to better support the new regional structure.

No one can predict with certainty what the environment LAO operates in will look like in the future.

However, LAO is creating through the Value Agenda and the IMPAC management strategy the mindset that best allows the organization to adapt to the future -- a future where continuous improvement is ingrained in LAO's culture.