LAO update: winter 2020 edition

Published: May 21, 2020

A quarterly update on Legal Aid Ontario’s latest access to justice initiatives

2019/20 Q4 addendum: This report has been updated since it was first published in May 2020. Changes include a summary of audit and compliance activities at LAO in 2019/20 and, an updated statement of operations that now shows we ended the year with a surplus owing to the reclassification of a one‑time funding allocation from the federal government.


Message from the CEO

The last quarter of 2019/2020 was possibly the most unusual of my career, as it probably was for many of you. Much of our time was spent adapting to the fluid public health situation, working remotely and caring for ourselves and others. All of this, following on the second reading of Bill 161 and its proposed revisions to the Legal Aid Services Act, a further increase in our financial eligibility guidelines and significant impacts on Law Foundation revenues as a result of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate cuts.

COVID-19 continues to challenge us. Through it, our main job remains to innovate, so we can continue to deliver legal aid services in a safe, effective and client-centred way until the dangers of the pandemic come to an end.

As we do this, it is important to think back on recent successes showing how we’re up to the task. With LAO staff, clients and justice partners working together, there are many to point to over the last three months, some of which are highlighted below.

Sincerely,

David Field
President and CEO
Legal Aid Ontario



Updates



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 Ontario.

  • Call centre–Tier 1
    Agents 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 2
    Tier 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‑custody
    LAO 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–Lawyers
    Lawyers who do legal aid work can contact the call centre for information on, 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

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Persons assisted for intake, triage and support 2018/19 2019/20
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Phone: Tier 1 70,156 73,498 68,281 76,534 74,457 73,473 70,289 68,383
Phone: Tier 2 26,614 29,117 27,254 28,709 28,105 28,742 28,150 30,281
Phone: In‑custody clients 8,194 9,066 8,462 9,120 9,391 9,532 9,258 9,659
Phone: Lawyer Service Centre 11,571 11,106 10,914 10,639 10,598 9,866 9,561 10,297

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.

Number of people assisted by duty counsel

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Persons assisted 2018/19 2019/20
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Criminal law 112,419 121,721 131,619 150,401 129,421 124,309 125,310 137,719
Civil law1 31,785 33,345 34,700 38,233 31,890 25,398 21,375 23,264
Total 144,204 155,066 166,319 188,634 161,311 149,707 146,685 160,983

[1] This category consists largely of people assisted in family law courts

Certificate program

LAO staff working at courthouses or on the phone assess whether an individual qualifies for legal help from LAO, and what kind of legal help they qualify for. A formal application is then created, and, if approved, a certificate is issued. Certificates state the type of service and length of time, as LAO will pay for a lawyer to complete the service based on the typical amount of work required.

Certificate application outcomes

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Certificate application outcomes 2018/19 2019/20
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Approved 27,794 27,448 27,492 28,854 26,687 25,389 26,386 26,846
Refused 3,624 3,369 3,373 3,658 3,530 3,133 3,321 3,026
Other2 1,504 1,502 1,653 1,721 1,689 1,529 1,451 1,235
Total outcomes recorded 32,922 32,319 32,518 34,233 31,906 30,051 31,158 31,107

[2] Application outcomes labelled as “Other” are often of an administrative nature and can include: referrals to other service providers, applications withdrawn by the client, or instances when an application was created in error.

Length of time to determine application outcome

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Length of time to determine application outcome 2018/19 2019/20
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Same day 23,015 22,755 22,757 24,006 22,039 21,186 21,685 22,332
1 to 7 days 2,836 2,929 2,786 3,713 3,556 3,205 3,360 3,013
7 to 14 days 1,781 1,664 1,861 1,529 1,573 1,423 1,517 1,274
14 to 30 days 2,538 2,327 2,475 2,182 2,249 1,949 2,247 1,987
Over 30 days 2,752 2,644 2,639 2,803 2,489 2,288 2,349 2,501
Total outcomes recorded 32,922 32,319 32,518 34,233 31,906 30,051 31,158 31,107
% same‑day decisions 69.90% 70.40% 70.00% 70.10% 69.10% 70.50% 69.60% 71.79%

Certificates approved by area of law

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Certificates approved by area of law 2018/19 2019/20
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Criminal law 14,953 14,506 15,020 15,929 15,333 14,610 14,754 15,400
Family law 7,473 7,398 6,945 7,585 6,942 5,969 5,439 5,705
Immigration and refugee law 3,968 4,123 4,186 3,904 3,029 3,400 4,878 4,195
Other3 1,400 1,421 1,341 1,436 1,383 1,410 1,315 1,546
Total 27,794 27,448 27,492 28,854 26,687 25,389 26,386 26,846

[3] 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 tribunals.


Audit and compliance at LAO in 2019‑20

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

In 2019-20, in collaboration with Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, the Audit and Compliance Unit successfully implemented an electronic process for obtaining court informations directly from court offices. These documents are used as part of the audit process to verify lawyer billings. The new initiative helped to make the audit process more effective and reduce the administrative burden on panel lawyers.

There are two types of audits

  1. Random: Accounts are randomly selected each month using a computer algorithm. The Audit and Compliance Unit is mandated to complete 1,200 random audits each fiscal year.

  2. Targeted: These audits look at a specific lawyer, group of lawyers, or a type of billing, based on a potential risk factor. Risk factors may include a high number of billing errors flagged in the past or if billing appears to be inconsistent with information available to the Audit and Compliance Unit from other government organizations.

  Random Targeted
Audits completed as of December 31, 2019 896 578
% of accounts with errors 8.4% 36%

When an audit confirms that a lawyer’s account does not comply with LAO’s billing rules, funds are recovered and the lawyer is provided with information to help submit future bills accurately. Where a lawyer’s account is validated, the file is closed.

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

The Investigations Department is mandated 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 to the Law Society of Ontario.

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

In 2019-20, the Investigations Department closed 143 files, of which

  • 135 pertained to LAO panel lawyers; 35 of these were referred to the Law Society of Ontario
  • 57 had no findings of non-compliance
  • 86 had substantive findings

Complaints in 2019‑20

The mandate of the Complaints Department is to ensure that complaints and inquiries about LAO get recorded, tracked and resolved according to LAO’s Complaints Policy.

Complaints are a source of valuable information for all aspects of LAO’s work and allow the Complaints Department to recommend systemic process and policy improvements based on findings and lessons learned from their findings.

In 2019-20, the Complaints Department registered 3,141 initial complaints. Approximately 15% of these (465) were found to be substantiated. Most related to LAO panel lawyers and were made by legally aided clients requesting a change of solicitor.

Reason for complaint Complaints vs (substantiated complaints)
Services provided by panel lawyers 2972 (446)
Duty counsel services 19 (2)
Legal Aid policy 94 (9)
Legal Aid staff 28 (8)
Other 27
Accessibility 1
Total 3141 (465)

LAO has a two-stage complaint resolution process. A person not satisfied with the initial resolution of their complaint may request another review.



Performance measures

Key Performance Indicator (KPI) name Measurement frequency Last measured Target Previous year (2018/19) Q4 2019/20
% of area office appeals heard within 3 days Quarterly Q4 2019/20 80.0% 59.5% 66.4%
% of calls answered within 3 minutes (L1) Quarterly Q4 2019/20 80.0% 70.0% 39.0%
% of calls answered within 3 minutes (LSC) Quarterly Q4 2019/20 80.0% 84.0% 91.9%
% of calls answered within 3 minutes (In‑custody) Quarterly Q4 2019/20 80.0% 64.0% 76.0%
% of calls answered with 20 minutes (L2) Quarterly Q4 2019/20 80.0% 63.0% 54.9%
Overall client satisfaction ‑ % of positive responses (email) Annual Q4 2019/20 80.0% 80.7% 80.1%
Overall lawyer satisfaction ‑ % of positive responses Annual Q3 2019/20 60.0% 52.0% 43.0%


LAO statement of operations

Revenue PY YTD actual Mar. 2019 ($M) CY YTD actual Mar. 2020 ($M)
Revenue
Government funding $405.0 $357.1
Law Foundation $79.0 $105.7
Other revenue $11.9 $13.2
Total revenue $495.9 $476.0
Core business expenses
Certificate costs $225.0 $223.6
Client service offices $20.1 $19.2
Clinic program $98.7 $89.0
Duty counsel program $60.8 $56.5
Service innovation $2.3 $2.2
Total core business expenses $406.9 $390.5
Operating expenses
Service provider support $7.1 $6.5
Administrative expenses $38.0 $36.0
Other expenditures $3.2 $4.2
Program support $27.6 $24.4
Total operating expenses $75.9 $71.2
Total expenditures $482.7 $461.7
Surplus / (deficit) before other corporate expenditures / savings $13.2 $14.4

Note: Due to rounding, the numbers may not add up precisely to the totals provided.