DEPARTMENTAL LEGAL SERVICES UNIT
Treasury Board Portfolio
2. OBSERVATIONS – MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK
The TBP LSU has established and documented its objectives and priorities, and communicated them to the TBS and its own staff.
Setting and documenting organizational objectives and priorities are important steps in ensuring that professional and support staff as well as the client receive a clear indication of expectations.
The TBP LSU’s long-term objective is to provide high quality, effective, and responsive legal services in areas relevant to the mandate of the TB Portfolio. Expected key projects and special issues for 2009-2010 include:
- legal support to the TBS in the management of pay equity complaints;
- continued support to the Federal Accountability Act implementation;
- continued support to the Policy Suite Renewal;
- development of a Legal Risk Management Strategy for cases not already managed by an ADM committee.
Client priorities are determined through formal annual planning meetings with TBS senior management. The timing and expected work content are adjusted regularly throughout the year based on information obtained through participation in meetings (e.g. TBS Executive Committee) and work on files.
The LSU has documented its objectives and priorities in a business plan, its mission statement, an employee orientation package, and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with TBS and CSPS. Objectives and priorities are also communicated in meetings with the LSU’s professional and support staff.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the TBP LSU establishes, documents, and communicates its objectives and priorities appropriately.
The TBP LSU has assessed the significant risks it faces in achieving its objectives, identified mitigation strategies, and taken action to manage the risks.
Risks to the achievement of objectives and priorities should be identified and assessed, with explicit mitigation strategies for each significant risk.
The TBP LSU’s 2009-10 Business Plan contains a section on risks, complete with mitigation strategies, based on a gap analysis conducted as part of the business planning process. Identified risks include:
- an inability to fund all positions due to the economic situation and Strategic Review;
- identification of new TBS initiatives requiring legal services beyond the LSU’s capacity;
- inability to recover sufficient costs from client departments with respect to labour litigation carried out on their behalf;
- difficulty in retaining support staff due to the under-classification of some positions or the extremely heavy workload of two key positions;
- lack of backup for support staff responsible for key systems;
- insufficient number of legal assistants who have the capacity to write complex documents in French.
The primary means of mitigating the potential financial pressures focuses on prioritizing work and obtaining more cost estimates before acquiring goods and services. Mitigation strategies for dealing with the work place issues include re-evaluating position descriptions, reassigning work, documenting procedures, and training.
Given its client’s responsibility for accountability and ethics, the LSU’s Business Plan has a section devoted to managing ethical risks that the LSU may face and addresses the standards of the legal profession.
It is our view that the TBP LSU’s risk management is satisfactory.
The TBP LSU participates in both the Department of Justice’s and the TBS’s planning processes, preparing a written business plan.
Planning is used by successful organizations to identify initiatives and activities that address issues and contribute to the achievement of stated objectives. Planning is also the process by which managers identify priorities—an important aspect of managerial responsibilities, especially in situations where resources are scarce.
Members of the TBP LSU’s management team Footnote 1 participate in annual planning meetings with the senior management team of the TBS and CSPS. The LSU also has periodic meetings with specific client representatives within TBS and CSPS to update its understanding of evolving priorities and pressures. The results of these meetings are combined with direction received from the Central Agencies Portfolio Office to produce a written business plan that details:
- the LSU’s mandate and the legal services provided in support of the mandate;
- an overview of the LSU’s business environment;
- funding sources;
- projects, pressures, and achievements in the previous fiscal year;
- priorities and program activities;
- human resources issues – gap analysis, strategies for addressing gaps, risks, and mitigating strategies for both support and professional staff;
- sector-specific risks and risk management strategies, including a section on ethical risks;
- sector pressures;
- opportunities for savings;
- detailed funding allocation tables.
The Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of the Central Agencies Portfolio told us that she was satisfied with the input made by the TBP LSU to the Department of Justice’s planning process.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the TBP LSU’s planning processes are satisfactory.
The TBP LSU is appropriately organized to meet its clients’ needs.
An LSU should be organized so that responsibility and accountability of its managers is well defined and work is undertaken by those with the expertise required to provide quality services.
As noted earlier, a Senior General Counsel, who reports to the ADM of the Portfolio, heads up the LSU. A Special Assistant, also a lawyer, assists the Senior General Counsel. The LSU is organized into three teams: the Labour and Employment Law Group (L&EL), the Government Operations and Public Management (GOPM) Group, and the Employment Equity Team. Each is headed by a General Counsel who manages the team.
The two General Counsel responsible for the L&EL Group and the GOPM Group have delegated staffing authority and limited financial authority (e.g. for external courses and travel).
In our view, the TBP LSU is appropriately organized.
2.4.1 Policies and Procedures
The TBP LSU’s policies and procedures manual needs to be revised and communicated to LSU staff.
Written policies and procedures are necessary for promoting the conduct of activities in a consistent, efficient, and economical manner.
The TBP LSU has a policy and procedures manual but it is out-of-date and its existence is not well known to the LSU’s employees. The lawyers in the LSU are generally not familiar with the LSU’s administrative policies and procedures but rely on their legal assistants to know and apply the applicable procedures. The legal assistants told the audit team that the procedures manual has been under development for many years. The paralegals noted that procedures have been developed for some activities, but more procedural information is required that describes the respective administrative responsibilities of paralegals and legal assistants. The Manager, Branch Planning Coordinator is aware that the procedures manual needs to be updated and improved. We were told that starting in November 2009, she planned on holding monthly meetings with the legal assistants in order to discuss and improve a new procedure each month. Once a procedure is finalized, it will be made available on the shared drive.
In our opinion, the existence of written policies and procedures alone is not a sufficient condition for promoting the conduct of activities in a consistent, efficient, and economical manner. It is important that approved procedures are communicated to staff.
Recommendation and Management Response
1. It is recommended that the Senior General Counsel ensure that new/revised administrative procedures are developed, documented, and communicated to staff.
Management agrees with this recommendation and has already implemented significant corrective measures. In fact, a full review of applicable procedures within our Legal Services Unit has been in progress for the past few months. The review is being conducted by a committee set up in February 2010 and we hope that this exercise can be completed by November 26, 2010.
Once the new procedures have been finalized and approved by the management team, they will be submitted and explained to all Legal Services Unit employees during a special meeting of employees chaired by the Senior General Counsel. These procedures will be kept on file and updated periodically so that they can be easily transmitted to all new employees joining our staff in the future.
2.4.2 Workload Assignment and Monitoring
The LSU distributes and monitors workload appropriately.
Workload should be managed so that client requests for legal services can be processed efficiently while maintaining service quality.
In the TBP LSU, litigators with the Labour and Employment Law Group are often required to travel outside the National Capital Region. The Litigation Schedule Coordinator tracks their workload, maintaining a week-by-week, day-by-day chart that provides such details as which lawyer is assigned to which litigation and the location of the assignment. A senior counsel assisted by the Litigation Schedule Coordinator reviews lawyer availability through discussions with the lawyers on an as-needed basis. Litigators advised us, however, that the focus of the Litigation Schedule Coordinator’s responsibility is on ensuring that a litigator is assigned to each scheduled litigation action. Therefore, to ensure that they are not overbooked and have sufficient time between cases to prepare, individual litigators must proactively manage their own schedules.
Experienced, well-known advisory lawyers in the LSU receive requests for legal services directly from the client and manage their own workload. Their group’s General Counsel or the Senior General Counsel becomes involved only when there are competing priorities. Within each of the LSU’s three legal teams, the General Counsel assigns work when the request is directed to the team or when an experienced lawyer receives a request outside his or her area of expertise. Factors considered in assigning the work include the expertise required, the availability of lawyers, and the learning opportunity provided (assuming the file is not urgent). General Counsel conduct regular meetings with their groups to track availability and progress on files.
Lawyers we interviewed stated that workload is high and the pace is demanding. Managers constantly monitor availability and adjust assignments to ensure that priorities are met. The lawyers also stated that they thought the LSU needed more resources to meet demand for its services, but otherwise found the LSU’s practices for distributing and monitoring workload among its lawyers satisfactory. A client feedback survey developed by the Department of Justice’s Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement (SPPM) bears this out: clients rated the LSU’s responsiveness as excellent and its timeliness as very positive.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the LSU’s workload distribution and monitoring practices are appropriate.
2.4.3 Performance Monitoring
The TBP LSU has published its service standards.
Performance monitoring is the ongoing, systematic process of collecting, analyzing, communicating, and using performance information. Monitoring is an essential component of assessing an organization’s progress toward meeting expected results and of making adjustments, if necessary, to ensure that they are achieved. It supports decision making, accountability, and transparency.
The TBP LSU publishes its service standards in its mission document and as an annex to the MOUs with its clients. The service standards included in the MOUs covered the period April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2014 and were developed by the Department of Justice’s Law Practice Management Directorate for use between a department’s LSU and its client department. The service standards include detailed operational performance indicators.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the LSU’s published service standards are appropriate.
The LSU monitors client satisfaction with a formal survey and through discussions with client management.
The LSU’s performance is assessed through the SPPM client feedback survey. The survey is administered every three years to gauge timeliness, responsiveness, and usefulness of the LSU’s services. The most recent survey report was dated May 22, 2009. All of the TBP LSU’s clients responded to the survey. The overall quality and responsiveness of services were rated as excellent and the usefulness and timeliness of the services were rated as very positive. The ratings for the TBP LSU’s overall quality and timeliness of services were higher than that received by the rest of the Department of Justice.
The audit team was informed that the LSU’s managers supplement the survey’s results with discussions with client managers regarding the LSU’s performance. Positive feedback is shared with the LSU’s lawyers responsible for the work. Negative feedback is discussed privately with the lawyer to identify what should be done differently in future. The Labour and Employment Law Group conducts a post mortem when a case has an unexpected outcome to identify how the case might have been handled differently and what lessons can be learned going forward.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the LSU’s monitoring of client satisfaction is appropriate.
The TBP LSU’s communications practices provide staff with the information they need to do their jobs.
Effective and appropriate communications are essential in any workplace. Information needs to be shared on a timely basis so that actions can be taken based on current and correct information.
Information is communicated within the LSU by a variety of means, such as all-staff meetings every six weeks, legal team meetings (weekly or bi-monthly depending on the team of lawyers), support staff meetings (every morning), and management meetings. A monthly newsletter and discussions, as required, also provide context for professional and administrative issues. There was consensus among lawyers and support staff interviewed that these mechanisms ensure that all members of the LSU have the general information they require to carry out their responsibilities.
It is our opinion that the LSU’s current communications practices are sufficient. It should be noted, however, that as we recommend in the section on “Policies and Procedures”, the LSU needs to develop office procedures that define the respective administrative responsibilities of LSU staff and communicate these to staff.
The LSU uses satisfactory practices to ensure it provides consistent legal advice.
The TBP LSU employs a number of practices to ensure consistency in the legal advice it provides to its clients. These include:
- team meetings to discuss substantive legal issues and progress on files;
- regular “lessons learned” sessions for both litigators and advisory lawyers in the Labour and Employment Law Group (The sessions enable advisory lawyers to learn of the results of litigation and how judges are interpreting the law, and allow litigators to track the evolution of opinion on matters of law.);
- regular informal consultations with peers in the LSU;
- review of previous opinions, advice, litigation, and relevant academic research (The information is stored in LOPORS (Legal Opinions and Precedents On-Line Retrieval System) or specialized databases established by the LSU.);
- monitoring by team managers of lawyers’ work and, depending on the complexity of the issue and the lawyer assigned to it, a review of the work before it is sent to the client;
- recording information on the Legal Services Request Form (“blue sheets”) and storing the information in a searchable database that permits tracking of requests for legal services by client and subject, nature of service required, counsel assigned, due date, reply type, and date of reply. (This enables the TBP LSU to monitor incoming requests for legal services in order to identify similarities to previous work undertaken by the LSU and to identify the relevant files in iRIMS. Files are assigned to lawyers who handled similar service requests in the past, if possible.)
The TBP LSU’s management and its lawyers told the audit team that they are satisfied with the measures in place to ensure consistent legal advice, and that no changes are required to improve them. The results of the 2009 SPPM client feedback survey showed a very high degree of positive feedback from the TBP LSU’s clients in this regard.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the practices the TBP LSU uses to ensure consistency in its legal advice are satisfactory.
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