LAO Update: Spring 2018 Edition

Published: June 30, 2018

Message from the CEO

One of Legal Aid Ontario’s priorities for this fiscal year is to create a new strategic plan for the next five years. We began that process in May. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the staff and stakeholders who provided input. Throughout this exercise, we’ll be taking a look at our operational changes and activities from over the past few years, and looking forward to where our efforts should be in our near future.

The need to improve access to justice must be a continuous endeavour that reacts to our changing times. We want to offer more responsive and efficient legal aid services, and a strategic plan is critical to this. But there are also two important points:

  • A plan can’t be strategic if it’s simply a list of action items. A lot of changes cannot be anticipated and lie beyond our control. This is why we need to develop a plan that allows us to be responsive while always keeping the focus on how we can best serve our clients. To achieve this, we need to take a more nuanced look at the environment we work within and understand how it impacts not only our clients but how we operate.
  • A strategic plan isn’t important, but strategic planning is.“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential,” said Winston Churchill. It’s important to make this distinction because, in the justice sector—as with a lot of other sectors—there are many factors that can make the landscape we’re operating within extremely fluid. A strategic plan takes these things into account.

At the end of the day, a strategic plan is less a blueprint than a guiding document to help us navigate a sea of change. There are big changes surrounding us in the justice sector, and this plan will help us develop the important priorities for helping people find access to justice.

Sometime this fall, we will have wrapped up this process and then share our new plan with you. I look forward to providing you with more updates in future communications.

David Field
President & CEO
Legal Aid Ontario

Spotlight: LAO compliance departments

As a government-funded agency enabling access to justice for people in need across Ontario, LAO is accountable for the use of public funds. Our compliance departments help LAO to ensure public money is spent in a responsible way.

The Audit and Compliance Unit conducts audits of lawyer accounts to ensure compliance with LAO billing rules. On occasion, we will randomly select a few lawyers that are new to the LAO billing system so that we can provide guidance to help them understand the billing requirements from the beginning.

When billing errors are identified, lawyers are provided with information to help to submit future bills accurately. If an error resulted in an overpayment, recovery of funds is made. If an audit shows that there were actually no errors, then the file is closed. We only seek to recover funds if errors are confirmed.

Sometimes auditors request lawyers to obtain a section of a court transcript to confirm their account. LAO reimburses this cost if no issues are found in the review.

Findings from audits help to inform improvements of the billing process as well as communication and training for LAO panel members.

There are two types of audits:

  • Random: where accounts of all lawyers have the same chance of being chosen
  • Targeted: audits that look at a specific lawyer, a group of lawyers, or a type of billing, based on an identified risk factor such as a high number of billing errors flagged in the past.

Audits in 2017/18

Random audits Targeted audits
1,201 accounts audited 1,144 accounts audited
12.9% of those audited had errors 36.9% of those audited had errors
$120,000 identified recoveries $426,000 identified recoveries

Where evidence of serious billing misconduct is detected as a result of an audit, the matter may be referred to the Investigations Department.

The mandate of the Investigations Department is to protect LAO from misappropriation of assets and to enforce the Legal Aid Services Act and its regulations, as well as LAO rules and policies.

The department conducts investigations into matters involving panel lawyers, clients and LAO employees. The Investigations Department also serves as LAO’s liaison with the Law Society of Ontario and may refer matters to the LSO on behalf of LAO.

Investigations where findings of non-compliance are made, may result in a recovery of overpaid funds, a caution or a reprimand, a panel management sanctions or a referral to the Law Society.

Investigations in 2017/18

  • 141 investigations conducted
    • 117 were for lawyer billing and conduct
    • 23 for client eligibility
    • 1 internal matter
  • 118 investigation files were closed
    • 70 files closed with findings of non-compliance
    • 48 files were closed without findings of wrongdoing
  • 103 days is the average time it takes to complete an investigation file

Projects and announcements from the fourth quarter

Upcoming purchase order close process
Monday, May 28, 2018
The 2018 Refugee Law Office Conference
Tuesday, May 23, 2018
Legal Aid Ontario to fund Canadian Association of Black Lawyers
Friday, April 27, 2018
Become an LAO advisor on complex criminal matters
Tuesday, April 5, 2018
Helping legal aid clinics do more for low-income Ontarians
Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Client services

Intake, triage and support services

LAO offers intake, triage and support services to people applying for legal aid, existing legal aid clients and lawyers who provide legal services on behalf of legal aid.

  • Call centre – Tier 1Agents in Tier 1 of LAO’s call centre can help assess service needs and provide information about qualifying for legal aid. Their responsibilities include, but are not limited to: triage, making referrals, performing status checks and updating client profiles.
  • Call centre – Tier 2Tier 2 agents conduct an in-depth analysis of a client’s legal needs, financial situation and case details to determine eligibility for legal aid services. Their responsibilities include, but are not limited to: processing applications, issuing certificates, making referrals, and providing enhanced public legal information.
  • Call centre – In-custodyLAO also offers a service dedicated to helping people who are incarcerated across the province. Staff take calls directly from inmates to determine legal aid eligibility, process applications and issue certificates as well as conduct status checks on submitted applications.
  • Call centre – LawyersLawyers who do legal aid work can contact the call centre for information, including but not limited to: tariff, billing, account status and technical support. This group serves as a first point of contact for most lawyers’ enquiries.
Click here to download image.
Persons assisted for intake, triage and support 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1
Phone: Tier 1 74,118 68,891 78,089 75,588 69,813 63,187 76,566 70,156
Phone: Tier 2 29,324 26,108 30,167 26,587 26,336 24,235 23,152 26,614
Phone: In-custody clients 8,236 7,419 8,992 8,773 8,919 7,693 7,437 8,194
Phone: Lawyer Service Centre 11,000 10,306 11,928 11,132 11,403 11,942 12,061 11,571

Duty counsel services

Duty counsel are LAO staff and per diem lawyers in courthouses. They can give immediate legal assistance to low-income people who would otherwise be unrepresented and unassisted.

Criminal law services

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Persons assisted by duty counsel – criminal law 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1
Per Diem DC 37,383 32,748 35,215 30,116 39,126 34,668 40,806 33,440
Staff DC 78,976 72,275 99,422 93,836 84,437 84,900 96,554 77,985
Total 116,359 105,023 134,637 123,952 123,563 119,568 137,360 111,425

Family law services

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Persons assisted by duty counsel – family law 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1
Per Diem DC 18,864 17,711 20,527 15,118 19,148 17,369 20,866 17,278
Staff DC 16,248 17,858 19,068 15,096 14,684 15,836 21,026 14,440
Total 35,112 35,569 39,595 30,214 33,832 33,205 41,892 31,678

Representation by a private practice lawyer

Legal aid applicants who are financially eligible, and who are facing a serious legal matter covered by LAO, may be issued a certificate to cover the cost of a private practice lawyer.

A certificate is a voucher that a low-income person can take to one of more than 3,600 private practice lawyers across the province who accept legal aid clients. A certificate guarantees the lawyer payment for a certain number of hours if they accept the case.

Click here to download image.
Certificates issued by area of law 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1
Criminal Law 16,415 15,065 15,386 14,520 14,492 13,714 14,053 14,953
Family Law 7,535 6,841 7,452 7,200 7,028 6,409 6,411 7,473
Immigration and Refugee Law 3,178 3,276 3,451 3,259 3,306 3,493 3,628 3,968
Other[1] 1,372 1,235 1,316 1,314 1,365 1,322 1,359 1,400
Total Certificates Issued 28,500 26,417 27,605 26,293 26,191 24,938 25,451 27,794

[1] Other is a category that represents all other legal matters covered by LAO certificates, such as: CCB matters, prison law matters and matters before civil tribunal.

Performance measures

Key Performance Indicator (KPI) name Measurement frequency Last measured Target Previous year (2017/18) Current value
% of same day decisions for certificates Quarterly Q1 2018/19 80% 76.2% 78.6%
% of area office appeals heard within 3 days Quarterly Q1 2018/19 80% 51.3% 52.1%
Acceptance rate for certificate applications Quarterly Q1 2018/19 87% 86.8% 83.5%
% of calls answered within 3 minutes (L1) Quarterly Q1 2018/19 80% 46.0% 55.0%
% of calls answered within 3 minutes (LSC) Quarterly Q1 2018/19 80% 77.0% 83.0%
% of calls answered within 3 minutes (Worklist) Quarterly Q1 2018/19 80% 64.0% 60.0%
% of calls answered within 20 minutes (L2) Quarterly Q1 2018/19 80% 50.0% 43.0%
Overall client satisfaction – % of positive responses (in-person) Annual Q4 2017/18 80% 77.0% 77.0%
Number of Ontarians financially eligible for LAO’s services Annual Q1 2018/19 Maintain 1,540,000 1,690,000
Overall lawyer satisfaction – % of positive responses Annual Q3 2017/18 60% 53.0% 53.0%

Statement of operations

Revenue Apr. 1, 2017 – Jun. 30, 2017 ($M) Apr. 1, 2018 – Jun. 30, 2018 ($M)
Government Funding $103.9M $112.1M
Law Foundation $7.9M $15.4M
Other Revenue $2.8M $3.1M
Total revenue $114.6M $130.6M
Core Business Expenses
Certificate Costs $61.7M $58.5M
Client Service Offices $5.1M $4.8M
Clinic Program $22.9M $26.1M
Duty Counsel Program $12.5M $13.8M
Service Innovation $0.8M $0.6M
Total Core Business Expenses $103.0M $103.7M
Operating Expenses
Service Provider Support $1.5M $1.7M
Administrative Expenses $9.1M $9.1M
Other Expenditures $2.7M $1.7M
Program Support $6.1M $6.4M
Total Operating Expenses $19.3M $18.9M
Total expenditures $122.3M $122.6M
Surplus / (deficit) before other corporate expenditures / savings ($7.7M) $8.0M