LAO Update: Spring 2018 Edition
Published: October 15, 2019
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.
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
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.
|Persons assisted for intake, triage and support||2016/17||2017/18||2018/19|
|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
|Persons assisted by duty counsel – criminal law||2016/17||2017/18||2018/19|
|Per Diem DC||37,383||32,748||35,215||30,116||39,126||34,668||40,806||33,440|
Family law services
|Persons assisted by duty counsel – family law||2016/17||2017/18||2018/19|
|Per Diem DC||18,864||17,711||20,527||15,118||19,148||17,369||20,866||17,278|
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.
|Certificates issued by area of law||2016/17||2017/18||2018/19|
|Immigration and Refugee Law||3,178||3,276||3,451||3,259||3,306||3,493||3,628||3,968|
|Total Certificates Issued||28,500||26,417||27,605||26,293||26,191||24,938||25,451||27,794|
 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.
|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)|
|Core Business Expenses|
|Client Service Offices||$5.1M||$4.8M|
|Duty Counsel Program||$12.5M||$13.8M|
|Total Core Business Expenses||$103.0M||$103.7M|
|Service Provider Support||$1.5M||$1.7M|
|Total Operating Expenses||$19.3M||$18.9M|
|Surplus / (deficit) before other corporate expenditures / savings||($7.7M)||$8.0M|