DEPARTMENTAL LEGAL SERVICES UNIT
Treasury Board Portfolio
The Treasury Board has established an extensive framework of policies for managing human, financial, and materiel resources. One of the requirements of these policies is that limited resources are to be managed with prudence and probity.
The TBP LSU has developed a comprehensive human resources plan as part of its 2009-10 Business Plan.
The TBP LSU’s human resources plan describes several items that may affect the numbers of lawyers and support staff in the LSU and the assignment of work:
- the amount of time-limited funding associated with particular initiatives;
- a summary of the results of an in-house study in the summer of 2007, which notes that the reclassification of a few positions is expected in 2009-10;
- the 2008-09 reorganization of support activities, which addresses several of the key workplace risks identified in the plan.
The human resources plan also provides an analysis of the gaps in the LSU’s human resources that have the potential to directly impact the LSU’s ability to provide service efficiently, strategies for addressing the identified gaps and risks, as well as mitigation activities to address the identified risks. (See “Objectives, Priorities, and Risk Management” for a description of the LSU’s key risks.)
It is the audit team’s opinion that the TBP LSU’s human resources planning is comprehensive.
Appropriate measures are taken by the TBP LSU to ensure that staff have the knowledge, skills, and competencies to carry out their respective responsibilities.
The acquisition of skills and knowledge, as well as the development of managerial and leadership expertise, is critical for the effective management of the Public Service. Training needs to be provided to staff to address any identified gaps in the existing skill set.
A range of mechanisms are used within the TBP LSU to ensure that lawyers and support staff have the skills and knowledge required:
- A welcome binder describes the LSU’s history; its organizational structure; the applicable statutes; the type and volume of requests for legal services received by the LSU; the specific responsibilities of the Government Operations and Public Management Group, the Labour Employment Law Group, and the Pay Equity Team; current hot topics/emerging issues; and the LSU’s funding. One group of lawyers we interviewed described this binder as out-of-date, while another described it as useful and helpful. Some lawyers were not familiar with the welcome binder. These lawyers had been with the TBP LSU for some time and recognized that its creation may have post-dated their joining the LSU. The audit team was provided with an updated version of the welcome binder that included events up to at least February 2009.
- Both lawyers and legal assistants have participated in a special session with TBS, in which the role of the TBS analyst and the functions of the TBS are explained.
- While there isn’t a formal mentoring process, the appropriate General Counsel regularly reviews the work of inexperienced advisory lawyers before legal opinions are sent to the client. Litigators follow a learning plan that has them work progressively more independently on lawsuits over a three-year period. Those lawyers who advised us that the implementation of a formal mentoring process would be desirable acknowledged that there are insufficient resources in the LSU to implement such a program.
- There is an open-door policy and regular dialogue among colleagues.
- Yearly training plans are developed for both lawyers and support staff. The lawyers told the audit team that ongoing professional development is available, both within the Department of Justice and externally. The lawyers reported that LSU management is very supportive of training, will approve the requested courses, and provide any required funding.
According to the lawyers interviewed, the biggest challenge in obtaining necessary training is finding the available time. Many cited self-study as a key method for obtaining the required annual professional development that is necessary to maintain their professional accreditation.
The audit team is of the opinion that appropriate measures are taken by the TBP LSU to ensure that staff have the knowledge, skills, and competencies to carry out their respective responsibilities.
The TBP LSU’s tracking of professional development of its staff requires improvement.
The Department of Justice’s Learning Policy states that every employee shall receive at least five days of professional development per year. As defined in the policy, professional development encompasses a wide range of activities including classroom training, formal education, conferences, seminars/workshops, practice forums, practice groups, coaching, mentoring, short-term assignments, secondments, job shadowing, job rotation, and reading.
In accordance with the departmental Learning Policy, LSU management are responsible for reporting on three key learning performance indicators. These include the percentage of base salary invested in learning, percentage of Department employees with individual learning plans, and the percentage of employees receiving a minimum of five days professional development per year. In the report compiled by the TBP LSU, management provides sufficient information on the first two of these indicators. However, for the third performance indicator, the report includes only those courses taken by staff that have an associated cost. The report does not capture informal training taken such as coaching, mentoring, short-term assignments, secondments, job rotation, and reading that a lawyer may do. As indicated above, these are all professional development as defined within the Learning Policy.
In the absence of thorough tracking of all professional development activities, the LSU cannot ensure that its employees are receiving the amount of professional development required under the Learning Policy.
Performance appraisals are completed in a timely manner.
There is an expectation under the TBS MAF that organizations will have in place a system for the performance evaluation of employees. Performance evaluations/appraisals conducted on a timely and consistent basis serve to establish objectives, provide feedback on performance, and identify learning and developmental opportunities.
We found that performance appraisals for all of the LSU’s lawyers and support staff for the most recent reporting period were on file, were complete, and had individual learning plans attached.
The TBP LSU has an appropriate mix of resources in relation to current demand for its services.
Based on the TBP LSU’s organization charts, in spring 2009, there was approximately one legal assistant for every five lawyers who were not on secondment or long-term leave without pay. There were 42 counsel including management in the LSU and eight legal assistants. Staffing was under way at the time for two counsel and one legal assistant. A further six counsel positions and two legal assistant positions were vacant. There were five paralegals in the TBP LSU with an additional two positions vacant and 10 other support staff performing financial and human resources, records management, and systems support functions.
The Senior General Counsel told the audit team that the LSU has the resources to deal with most ongoing work, but cannot readily address significant short-term increases in demand that stem from major litigation or client policy initiatives. When this occurs, the LSU must try to adjust priorities and/or seek additional funding from the client to cover the shortfall. Two of the team managers were satisfied with the number of lawyers on their team in light of the plans to fill two vacant positions. The third team manager advised the audit team that additional resources were required for her group. We were further advised that two lawyers had left the LSU because of workload demands, and that although a senior lawyer has been recruited, the workload remains too heavy for the remaining lawyers. One team manager indicated that the LSU plans to ask the client for additional resources to engage another lawyer.
Our review of iCase reports found in each month examined that slightly more than 35% of the lawyers in the LSU reported no overtime, over 40 percent reported 15 hours or less overtime in a month, and up to 20 percent reported more than 15 hours of overtime. Those reporting 30 hours or more in any one month included the Senior General Counsel, a General Counsel responsible for managing one of the groups in the LSU, two litigators, and a member of the GOPM group. It is the audit team’s opinion that the amount of overtime across the whole LSU is not excessive.
The lawyers from both the Government Operations and Public Management Group and the Labour Employment Law Group told the audit team that more support staff of all types (e.g. legal assistants, paralegals, clerical support) are required. In at least one instance, one legal assistant is supporting six lawyers. We were told that lawyers are entering data, photocopying, and conducting basic research, tasks that could be carried out by less specialized resources. The lawyers also indicated that turnover in legal assistants has contributed to the work inefficiencies as many of the legal assistants haven’t worked long enough in the LSU to become familiar with lawyers’ individual approaches and work preferences.
The Manager, Branch Planning Coordinator told the audit team that existing vacant support staff positions need to be filled. Only short-term funding is available from the client for this purpose and as a result the positions can be filled only on a temporary basis. Both legal assistants and paralegals identified the addition of more legal assistants as a priority.
The audit team is of the opinion that while the TBP LSU may be facing some resource pressures, its current resource mix is close to appropriate levels. The ratio of lawyers to legal assistants of 5:1 is slightly higher than the ratio of 4:1 observed in many other recently audited DLSUs. Most of the other DLSUs audited, however, did not have paralegals. Staffing existing vacant positions and the development of new/revised administrative procedures as recommended (see “Policies and Procedures”) will help to improve the situation.
Recommendation and Management Response
2. It is recommended that the Senior General Counsel implement a process to track and report all professional development taking place in the TBP LSU.
Management agrees with this recommendation and has already taken measures to correct the situation. In fact, the Office of the Assistant Deputy Minister, Central Agencies Portfolio, has drafted a form that we now use to record all information having to do with training and conferences attended by employees of our Legal Services Unit, whether or not the activities involve costs.
Management is therefore confident that within the next 90 days, information on the professional development of our Legal Services Unit employees will be updated to the utmost and will remain that way in the future.
The financial resources provided to the TBP LSU by the Department of Justice and its clients have enabled it to provide satisfactory levels of service.
The TBP LSU is funded both from the Department of Justice A-base (approximately one-quarter of its funding) and through cost-recovery from its clients. Resource requirement projections are based on the LSU’s expectation of how emerging issues will impact the demand for legal services. The LSU identifies to the client any potential gaps between its capacity to provide services and the projected requirement(s). We were told that if there is an expected shortfall, the client receiving the services is expected to provide the funding and that thus far TBS and CSPS have usually been willing to do so. The LSU was unable to recover approximately $160,000 Footnote 1 of the costs it incurred in providing services to departments other than TBS and CSPS. We were also told that this process has provided sufficient resources to enable the LSU to meet ongoing legal work, but that it cannot readily address workload surges that stem from major litigation or client policy initiatives (e.g. policy and legal implications of the Accountability Act). In such cases, the surges are addressed by reallocating resources internally.
The practices that the LSU uses to manage temporary increases in demand for its legal services have enabled it to provide satisfactory levels of service. The 2009 SPPM client feedback survey of the TBP LSU showed a very high degree of positive feedback from clients, meeting or surpassing Department of Justice targets. Interviews the audit team conducted with a sample of clients showed similar levels of satisfaction with the LSU’s ability to meet client demand for services.
The measures taken to administer the TBP LSU’s financial resources are satisfactory.
The LSU receives financial reports from the TBS financial system on a quarterly basis. The reports are reviewed and approved by the Senior General Counsel. In addition, the LSU’s management team, which includes the Manager, Branch Planning Coordinator, meets weekly to review management issues, including the LSU’s financial position if required. The LSU’s financial position is also monitored by the LSU’s Financial Clerk, who daily tracks the LSU’s revenue and expenditures on a spreadsheet Footnote 2. Reports are provided to the Manager, Branch Planning Coordinator as required.
Our review of financial transactions showed that all were supported with the required documentation. Acquisitions are made via a Standing Offer, wherever one is in place.
It is our opinion that the measures taken to administer the LSU’s financial resources are sufficient and reasonable.
Key assets are protected in an appropriate manner.
The TBP LSU’s key physical assets are provided by the TBS, which maintains an up-to-date inventory of all easily movable assets (e.g. computers, monitors, printers, Cerlox machines, electric staplers, smart phones). No losses have been reported.
In order to control access to the LSU’s electronic assets (systems, shared drives), the LSU maintains a central registry of authorized users. The registry is culled regularly to ensure that only current employees have access.
Measures are in place to protect the LSU’s physical assets. The LSU is housed in the TBS’s Ottawa headquarters. All visitors to the building must present themselves to a reception desk on the ground floor. Reception staff verify the visitor’s identity and call the specified LSU staff member to confirm the appointment. Visitors are escorted while in the LSU’s suite of offices.
We are of the opinion that the TBP LSU takes appropriate measures to protect key physical and electronic assets.
- Date modified: