Departmental Legal Services Unit
Natural Resources Canada
April 2010


1.1 Background

The Department of Justice has established dedicated departmental legal services units (DLSUs) for most government departments and agencies. These units provide client organizations with legal advice to facilitate their operations. This audit focused on the management practices of the legal services unit (LSU) that is serving Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

NRCan’s goal is to create a sustainable resource advantage for Canadians, now and in the future. The Department works to improve the competitiveness of Canada’s natural resource sectors, and to ensure that resource development takes place sustainably and advances Canada’s leadership on the environment. NRCan also supports some of Canada’s basic safety and security obligations through its knowledge of, and expertise on, the country’s vast and diverse landmass. Footnote 1

Specific areas of current focus for the NRCan LSU include providing legal advice and opinions on the legislative authority for NRCan programs, policies, and new legislative and regulatory initiatives. The LSU also provides legal advice on program initiatives and program administration, particularly in relation to transfer payment programs. The LSU also coordinates with the legislative and regulatory drafting sections of the Department of Justice, provides litigation support and legal risk management, and trains NRCan personnel on legal issues through legal awareness seminars. The quality of the legal services provided to NRCan is of critical importance to NRCan’s achievement of its strategic outcome.

The NRCan LSU is part of the Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio of the Department of Justice. A General Counsel and Executive Director is responsible for the LSU and reports to the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Portfolio. The LSU consists of 18 staff, including 14 counsel and four support staff. The counsel are organized into two teams: the Corporate, Commercial, and Intellectual Property Team; and the Energy and Regulatory Law Team. Planned expenditures for operations and maintenance (O&M) and salaries for 2009-10 were approximately $2.3 million Footnote 2. Additional contextual information on the LSU is provided in Appendix A.

Some of the key risk factors that were identified in selecting the NRCan LSU for audit included the impact of the legal work on the programs and activities of NRCan, the appropriateness of linkages with Department of Justice organizations, the ability to respond to client demand for legal services, the level of efficiencies in the organization and in workload management, the adequacy of information for decision making, the accurate reporting of performance information, the provision of consistent legal advice, the management of electronic information, and the appropriateness of linkages with the client department.

1.2 Audit Objectives and Scope

The overall objective of this audit was to review and assess the framework within which the LSU delivers services to NRCan and to recommend improvements to this framework.

The audit team examined and assessed:

  • the management control framework (policies, practices, and procedures relating to planning, organizing, controlling, leading, and communicating);
  • the management of financial, materiel, and human resources;
  • the reliability of information systems for decision-making and accountability purposes;
  • the extent of compliance with key legislation, regulations, and central agency/departmental policies relating to the Financial Administration Act, Official Languages Act, employment equity, and contracting;
  • the appropriateness of interfaces with other sectors in the Department of Justice;
  • the appropriateness of interfaces with the client department;
  • the level of client satisfaction with the services provided.

The audit also addressed:

  • mix of resources (including use of paralegals);
  • workflow processes;
  • workload management;
  • forecasting demand for legal services;
  • risk management;
  • staff recruitment and retention, and succession planning;
  • adequacy of financial resources received from the Department of Justice and the client department;
  • extent to which the NRCan LSU is consulted by its client department on files that could have a legal issue.

The scope of the audit included the operations and activities of the NRCan LSU in the National Capital Region. The planning and the on-site examination phases for this audit were carried out between June and November 2009.

Details concerning the audit methodology employed are outlined in Appendix B.

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