Eyes on LAO
LAO Always Vigilant To Ensure Proper Use of Public Funds
Posted on: Friday, April 4 /08
LAO has clearly defined and well-understood policies in place to carry out its legislative authority and public responsibility for the appropriate use of public funds.
There are systems, methods and safeguards - backed by experience and special insight - that weed out everything from "inadvertent overpayments" and billing mistakes to out-and-out fraud. And the procedures and tools for sorting it all out are constantly being refined and enhanced.
Approval of lawyer to do legal aid work
There are requirements and controls for a lawyer to get approved for Legal Aid work. The certificate approval process includes a check that first and foremost ensures the lawyer involved is empanelled by LAO and also for the particular area of practice for which the certificate pertains.
If they are able to get authorization from the system to accept the certificate from a client, the lawyer must have been empanelled to do that type of work.
The panel standards set by LAO are part of its commitment to ensuring that all clients receive high quality legal aid services.
If the qualifications for a panel standard change, a lawyer may have to upgrade his training and experience accordingly or find himself no longer able to bill for any new legal aid work that falls under that area of practice.
Submission of accounts
Legal Aid sets out the authorized rates, billable hours and disbursements for every certificate case.
Whether a bill is submitted online or on paper, the first check applied is the tariff maximums for the work authorized by the certificate. About 10 per cent of bills are above the tariff maximums.
LAO's computerized payment system also checks that no other rules are violated. If there are any violations, the account is transferred out of the automated processing stream for further examination by highly trained staff.
Lawyers are obliged to bill within a certain period, not before or after. Disbursements also have to fall within tolerances set by LAO, which has a separate group of disbursement analysts.
It's understood that lawyers sometimes have to spend money on "unusual" expenses, such as an expert witness. They can ask for the expense to be covered, but the required authorization must be requested in writing in advance.
If the authorization is issued, it's for a fixed number of hours at a specified hourly rate.
Just as in private practice work, lawyers are also required to maintain detailed records for at least six years after the end of the year in which the final legal aid account is submitted.
Lawyers who bill frequently online, for example, may expect that three or four accounts per year could be selected for examination.
If the random examination of an account identifies significant issues or errors, Legal Aid may initiate a targeted examination of the lawyer's accounts.
All allegations of fraud or improper use of public funds will be investigated in accordance with Investigations Department policy.