Audit of Business and Regulatory Law – British Columbia Regional Office
October 03, 2012
8. Under the Department of Justice Act, the Department is responsible for the legal affairs of the Government as a whole and is to provide legal services to individual departments and agencies. As a result, all government departments and agencies, referred to as “clients”, with few exceptions, must obtain all of their legal services through the Department of Justice (DOJ). Legal services are delivered through Departmental Legal Service Units (DLSUs) that are co-located with clients; national functional specialists; and, regional functional specialists located at each of the six regional offices.
9. In the British Columbia Regional Office (BCRO), located in downtown Vancouver, the region's approximately 500 staff work together to deliver a broad range of legal services to federal government departments and agencies throughout the province and, where BCRO counsel have the lead, throughout the rest of the country. The Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio (BRLP) provides these services to clients whose mandates have a strong regulatory or business law component. In the BCRO, the BRLP consists of two sections: Advisory Services and Litigation. Line authority for these sections rests with the Regional Director General for the BCRO, while functional authority rests with the Assistant Deputy Minister, BRLP. Both the Regional Director General and the Assistant Deputy Minister, BRLP report to the Associate Deputy Minister.
10. The Advisory Services Section provides legal advice on a wide range of topical issues with a focus on property and commercial transactions to various federal government departments, including Fisheries and Oceans, National Defence, Parks Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Transport Canada, and Western Economic Diversification. The Section possesses expertise in aboriginal law, administrative law, commercial law, contract law, construction law, environmental law, fisheries law, maritime law and real property law. The Advisory Services Section consists of approximately 19 counsel and 9 support staff.
11. The Litigation Section represents the Attorney General of Canada in civil litigation and provides clients in the Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio, Central Agencies Portfolio and Justice Portfolio with a wide range of litigation services in a broad spectrum of fields. The main areas of focus include government liability, constitutional and administrative law, regulatory law, human rights, environmental and privacy law. Counsel represent the Crown in court proceedings before the British Columbia Supreme Court, British Columbia Court of Appeal, the Federal Courts and various administrative tribunals. This section is comprised of roughly 34 counsel and 36 support staff.
1.2 Audit Objective and Scope
12. This audit was identified in the 2011–12 Internal Audit Plan. The overall objective of the audit was to assess the management framework within which the BCRO BRLP delivers services to its clients including:
- the management framework (policies, practices, and procedures relating to planning, organizing, controlling, leading, and communicating);
- the reliability of information systems for decision-making and accountability purposes;
- the risk and legal file management and forecasting demand for legal services;
- the appropriateness of interfaces with other departmental sectors and client departments/agencies; and,
- the level of client satisfaction with the legal services provided.
13. The planning and on–site examination phases of the audit were carried out between February and June, 2012. The on–site detailed examination was undertaken at the British Columbia Regional Office in Vancouver.
1.3 Risk Assessment
14. The initial risk assessment conducted during the planning phase identified the following potential risks in the administration of the BCRO BRLP:
- The risk that the absence of established, effective oversight bodies, with a clearly communicated mandate, including clear roles with respect to governance, risk management and control may lead to ineffective management practices.
- The risk that the BCRO BRLP may not achieve its strategic objectives due to not having effective operational plans in place.
- The risk that human resource planning may not be aligned with strategic and business planning.
- The risk that there may be inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the delivery of advisory and litigation services as a result of ineffective interfaces with other Department of Justice organizations and clients.
- The risk that the planning and resource allocations may not consider the relevant risk factors (Prioritization, Timeliness and Resource Allocation).
1.4 Audit Criteria
15. Audit criteria were developed in consideration of the risks identified during the planning phase of the audit and were derived from TBS guidance on auditing management frameworks provided in the“Core Management Controls: A Guide for Internal Auditors?”.
16. For an overview of the audit criteria, see Appendix A.
1.5 Approach and Methodology
17. The approach and methodology used for the audit were consistent with the Internal Audit standards as outlined by the Institute of Internal Auditors and were aligned with the Treasury Board (TB) Policy on Internal Audit and related guidelines and procedures.
18. A detailed description of the approach and methodology is outlined in Appendix C.
1.6 Key Findings
19. The audit team observed the following areas where the management framework is properly designed and applied effectively:
- The BCRO BRLP has effective governance and adequate strategic direction evidenced by several committees; formal and informal meetings which take place on a regular basis; strong leadership and good communication strategies; and relatively high staff satisfaction levels.
- The BCRO BRLP has a thorough business planning process, adequate controls over legal workload management, and adequate compliance monitoring processes.
- The reliability of information systems for decision-making and accountability at the BCRO BRLP is adequate.
- The BCRO BRLP has adequate processes for legal workload management. The assignment and monitoring of workload for high risk legal files is done through the File Assignment Committee, which has been identified as a strength.
- There are adequate interfaces between the BCRO BRLP, its national counterparts and other sectors. There is interaction and communication between the groups through a variety of regional and national committees and meetings.
- BCRO BRLP's clients are satisfied with the level of service that is provided.
20. The audit team also identified the following areas requiring improvement:
- The roles and responsibilities of paralegals in the BCRO BRLP vary depending on the counsel assigned.
- New legislative and policy requirements have resulted in an increased number of administrative duties and reporting requirements within the BCRO BRLP.
1.7 Strengths Identified
21. Amongst the various strengths identified during the audit, one of particular note was the File Assignment Committee (FAC). As of September 2008, assignments to all new files with high risk assessments are made by the FAC. The FAC consists of the Regional Director General, the Legal Risk Management counsel and the senior legal managers. The assignment process considers the skills, experience, capacity, workloads, and interests of counsel in the office. This ensures that the counsel assigned to these files are those best suited and provides opportunities for counsel interested in working on files outsides of their sections with opportunities to do so. In addition, this process enhances the BCRO's ability to develop a cadre of counsel with a broad range of skills and experience.
2.0 Findings, Recommendations and Management Responses
- Audit Criterion:
An appropriate governance and organizational structure is established, communicated and conducive to the achievement of objectives and operational requirements. [Audit Criterion 1.0]
- Key Finding:
The roles and responsibilities of paralegals in the BCRO BRLP vary depending on the counsel assigned.
22. Ensuring that all staff have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities is essential to employee engagement and organizational success.
23. Management and staff at the BCRO BRLP indicated that, in general, the organizational structure of the sections works well, that the roles are clearly established and well communicated, and that their job descriptions mirror their actual jobs and responsibilities.
24. However, interviews with paralegals and lawyers indicated that paralegals?roles and responsibilities vary depending on the counsel assigned. Paralegals perform a variety of tasks under the guidance of a legal professional including research, compiling documents, drafting various procedures and creating court files. Many counsel seemed unsure of the roles and the paralegals?ability to perform tasks on the file. This issue was also raised by paralegals in a survey conducted in 2010 by the Regional Law and Litigation Committee (RLLC).
25. Lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities of paralegals could detrimentally affect both individual and organizational performance.
Recommendation and Management Response
It is recommended that the Regional Director General, British Columbia Regional Office ensure that the roles and responsibilities of paralegals within the BCRO BRLP are reviewed, clarified and communicated. (Low Risk)
Agreed. The Regional Director General, British Columbia Regional Office will ensure that the Director, Business and Regulatory Law – Advisory, and the Director, Business and Regulatory Law – Litigation:
- review the roles of paralegals (EC-01 – EC-05) with the Senior Paralegal Coordinator (Targeted Completion Date: October 01, 2012);
- mandate and supervise the delivery of training for counsel and paralegals on best practices for effective use of paralegals (Targeted Completion Date: October 31, 2012); and,
- draft and distribute a BCRO BRLP protocol of roles and responsibilities for ECs and for EC file assignment (Targeted Completion Date: November 30, 2012).
- Audit Criterion:
Resources (human, financial and material) are properly planned, managed and supported. [Audit Criterion 3.0]
- Key Finding:
New legislative and policy requirements have resulted in an increased number of administrative duties and reporting requirements within the BCRO BRLP.
26. Effective workload management supports the attainment of organizational objectives by appropriately aligning resources and business processes in a dynamic environment.
27. The BCRO BRLP has adequate processes for legal workload management. The assignment and monitoring of workload for high risk legal files is done through the File Assignment Committee and this process has been identified as a strength.
28. With respect to administrative workload management, an Administrative Liaison Committee (ALC) exists, which is comprised of section administration managers who meet monthly to discuss common issues, new policies and operational, reporting or procedural changes in areas such as finance, purchasing, administration, information management, and information technology.
29. While the ALC is making efforts to address administrative workload management issues, the continually increasing number of administrative duties and reporting requirements is an area of concern. New legislation and policy requirements have led to new processes, as well as, increased requirements for compliance and accountability. However, the BCRO BRLP has not reviewed its business processes in recent years to assess their relevancy or to determine if the various tasks could be done more efficiently. There is a risk that increased administrative workload pressures may have a negative impact on work quality and may affect the ability of the BCRO BRLP to achieve its objectives and mandate.
Recommendation and Management Response
It is recommended that the Regional Director General, British Columbia Regional Office ensure that existing administrative duties are reviewed with a goal of streamlining processes to become more efficient. (Low Risk)
Agreed. The Regional Director General, British Columbia Regional Office will ensure that the Director, Business and Regulatory Law - Advisory, and the Director, Business and Regulatory Law - Litigation:
- review administrative duties by developing an inventory log and directing staff to catalogue all administrative tasks performed (Targeted Completion Date: October 15, 2012);
- analyze and prioritize tasks to determine any gaps between resources and staffing levels including appropriate levels of delegation (Targeted Completion Date: December 31, 2012); and,
- communicate and implement any necessary changes as a result of the review and analysis (Targeted Completion Date: January 15, 2013).
30. The Department of Justice British Columbia Regional Office (BCRO) Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio (BRLP) has overall an adequate management framework in place to deliver services to its clients.
31. The management framework provides for effective governance; risk assessment, legal file management, and forecasting of demand for legal services; reliable information systems for decision making and accountability; appropriate interfaces with other sectors of the Department and client departments; and, an adequate level of client satisfaction with the legal services provided.
32. Recommendations for improvements at the BCRO BRLP include: clarifying the roles and responsibilities of paralegals; and, reviewing administrative duties with a goal of streamlining processes to become more efficient. The requirement for improvement in these areas has led to the recommendations in this report.
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