Departmental Legal Services Unit
Canada Border Services Agency
6. Observations – Risk and Legal File Management and Forecasting Demand for Legal Services
6.1 Risk and Legal File Management
Identifying and managing risk is crucial for the successful completion of legal case work. Early recognition of file risk, evaluating its potential effects, and formulating mitigation strategies help enable legal professionals to ensure successful completion of files.
The CBSA LSU has developed effective risk management practices.
The 2010-11 PSDI Portfolio Business Plan identified nine risks, four of which apply to the CBSA LSU: legal skills and expertise, HR corporate capacity, HR information completeness and accuracy, and IM/IT and information accessibility. Mitigating strategies were developed and incorporated into the LSU’s business plan, including the creation of LSU working groups, to address risks and develop solutions.
Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Justice jointly developed a guide on best practices for managing legal risk. This was entitled “Best Practices in Legal Risk Management” and was approved in 2010 by the Public Service Management Advisory Committee. The LSU is working with the CBSA to ensure that all programs are reviewed to align with the best practices set out in the guide.
The LSU has established an infrastructure to support the initial assessment of legal risk and the subsequent update throughout the life cycle of a file. Risk is assessed by the Senior General Counsel and team leaders based on their experience, involvement in regular meetings with various bodies within the Department and the CBSA (e.g. Look-Ahead weekly meetings chaired by the Director General, Communications Branch at the CBSA, weekly meetings of the Justice Canada Strategic Legal Issues Committee) and information garnered from the Justice Canada Early Warning Notes System and departmental systems such as GASPARD, LOPORS, and Folio Views.
After discussion with the Senior General Counsel, team leaders assign files to LSU lawyers with the requisite level of skills and experience. The team leaders and the Senior General Counsel meet regularly with CBSA management to determine the nature of upcoming cases to ensure that knowledgeable and capable counsel are available for priority cases. For complex cases, they will also assign a junior/intermediate lawyer with an assigned mentor (senior lawyer) for knowledge transfer and oversight.
In addition, the LSU has developed risk management strategies through its participation on a number of CBSA committees such as the CBSA Executive Committee and the CBSA Programs Standing Committee and through its participation on a number of Department of Justice portfolio committees. From our interviews with team leaders, we were advised that the LSU will undertake a joint risk management exercise with the CBSA management group in early 2011.
In our opinion, the CBSA LSU has developed effective risk management practices.
The LSU is currently reviewing iCase capabilities to automate the labelling of files with respect to risk.
iCase reports provide information on case files such as subject matter, file number, type of activity, activity status (active or closed), and status date. iCase reports do not, however, provide information on the risk, complexity, or priority level of case files maintained by the LSU.
Through interviews, the audit team was told that the file complexity, priority, and risk level can only be determined once the file has been reviewed and analyzed by the Senior General Counsel or the Team Leader to whom the file has been assigned. This information is then noted on the file but not in iCase. LSU management advised the audit team that the regional offices have developed a mechanism that enables them to enter the risk level of the files into iCase and that the LSU is exploring the development of a similar process.
In our opinion, the LSU is taking adequate steps to automate the process of identifying the risk level in iCase.
The CBSA LSU has developed procedures for receiving instructions from clients and manages legal files in a timely manner throughout their life cycle.
The CBSA Legal Services Manual outlines the LSU’s process for receiving requests and instructions from clients and for managing legal files. Through interviews, the audit team confirmed that LSU staff use the process appropriately and that it supports the legal files throughout their life cycle.
The SPPM client survey, last conducted in 2007, provided a high rating to the LSU with respect to timeliness of response to client requests. In our opinion, the survey results confirm that the LSU is managing files in a timely manner.
6.2 Forecasting Demand for Legal Services
Effective forecasting of demand for legal services is fundamental to the effective management of an LSU’s legal business.
Forecasting demand for legal services is completed annually and integrated into the budget planning process.
LSU management participates in the CBSA annual planning process through membership on various committees and uses the information gathered on CBSA activities to identify client requirements for legal services on an ongoing basis. This process allows the LSU to forecast the type of resources that will be needed for the coming year to meet client requests for services in a timely manner. Furthermore, the LSU regularly monitors actual expenditures against budgeted amounts to assess outcomes and improve future forecasting.
In our opinion, the CBSA LSU’s process for identifying the annual forecasted demand for legal services is effective.
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