DEPARTMENTAL LEGAL SERVICES UNIT
Treasury Board Portfolio
The Department of Justice has established dedicated departmental legal service 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 DLSU that is serving the Treasury Board Portfolio (TBP).
The scope of the audit included the operations and activities of the TBP Legal Services Unit (LSU) in the National Capital Region. The planning and the on-site examination phase for this audit were carried out between June and November 2009.
The TBP LSU has a well-developed management framework. It has established and documented its objectives and priorities, and communicated them to the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada (TBS) and its own staff in a business plan, its mission statement, an employee orientation package, and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with TBS and the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS), which are the LSU’s primary clients. The TBP LSU has assessed the significant risks it faces in achieving its objectives and identified mitigation strategies in its 2009-10 Business Plan. It has taken action to manage the risks.
The TBP LSU is appropriately organized to meet its clients’ needs. There are three teams of lawyers within the LSU aligned with the key areas of the law for which the LSU is responsible (e.g. government operations, labour and employment law, and employment equity). Responsibilities and accountabilities of the team leaders are well defined.
The LSU distributes and monitors workload appropriately. The litigation workload is tracked very closely to ensure that a litigator is assigned to each scheduled litigation action. The TBP LSU has published its service standards. Client satisfaction against these service standards is monitored with a formal triennial survey (developed by the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Measurement (SPPM)) and through discussions with client management. Post mortems are conducted when a case has an unexpected outcome to identify what lessons can be learned.
The TBP LSU’s communications practices generally provide staff with the information they need to do their jobs. The LSU also uses satisfactory practices to ensure it provides consistent legal advice. The TBP LSU’s policies and procedures manual, however, is not well known to the LSU’s employees and is out-of-date. We were told that the LSU has plans under way to review and revise procedures in the manual. It is important that the approved procedures are communicated to all staff. A recommendation has been made that new/revised administrative procedures be developed, documented, and communicated to staff.
The TBP LSU has developed a comprehensive human resources plan as part of its 2009-10 Business Plan. The manual describes several items that may impact on the number of lawyers and support staff in the LSU and the assignment of work.
Appropriate measures are taken by the TBP LSU to ensure staff have the knowledge, skills, and competencies to carry out their respective responsibilities. Yearly training plans are developed for both lawyers and support staff. Work of inexperienced lawyers is reviewed regularly and a welcome binder details the applicable statutes, current hot topics/emerging issues, and the type of legal requests received. Reports on training compiled by the TBP LSU only include information on courses that have an associated cost. The reports do not capture information on informal training that nonetheless meets the Department of Justice’s definition of professional development. As a result, the LSU cannot ensure that its employees are receiving the required amount of professional development. A recommendation has been made to implement a process to track and report all professional development taking place in the TBP LSU.
Performance appraisals and associated individual learning plans are completed for all of the LSU’s lawyers and support staff in a timely manner.
Management in the LSU are generally satisfied with the level of resources available. When there are increases in demand for services, priorities are adjusted and/or additional funding is requested from the client. Plans were under way to staff several positions. Lawyers reported that workload demands are heavy and that more support staff are required. Based on the information available in iCase, the amount of overtime across the whole LSU is not excessive. The ratio of lawyers to legal assistants of 5:1, based on the TBP LSU's organization chart, is slightly higher than the ratio of 4:1 observed in many other DLSUs recently audited. Most of the other DLSUs audited, however, did not have paralegals.
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 measures taken to administer the LSU’s financial resources are satisfactory. Regular reports are reviewed, reconciled, and verified. Compliance testing of financial transactions by the audit team found no errors.
Key assets are protected in an appropriate manner. An up-to-date inventory of all easily movable assets is maintained by TBS and access to the LSU’s office suite is controlled.
The TBP LSU’s management uses relevant information from financial and timekeeping systems to support management decision making and accountability. LOPORS is used as a key repository for legal opinions. Opinions that are restricted to only those individuals in excluded positions are stored separately.
Files are opened and tracked using the Recorded Information Management System (RIMS) and are closed on a regular basis. The physical location of all files selected as part of the audit sample was consistent with the information in RIMS.
Not all information is filed correctly and/or on a timely basis in the appropriate file. This generally only occurs with the advisory files. Several factors have contributed to this, including the extensive use of paper records, the heavy workload, lack of knowledge of the appropriate process to follow, and lack of staff. The Department of Justice undertook a proof of concept of the Government of Canada’s newest document and records management shared solution during 2009-10. It could be some time before it can be implemented within the LSU. Improved procedures communicated to all staff, as already recommended, should contribute to more correct and timely filing.
Compliance with Legislation and Policies
There is compliance with key government legislation and policies including the Financial Administration Act and the Official Languages Act.
Interfaces with Other Justice Sectors
The TBP LSU’s interfaces with the Department of Justice are satisfactory.
The TBP LSU is consulted on files that could have a legal issue. Its clients are satisfied with the legal services provided by the LSU. The 2009 survey of the TBP LSU’s clients showed a very high degree of positive client feedback.
The management responses to the recommendations contained in this report were provided by the Senior General Counsel, Treasury Board Portfolio Legal Services Unit.
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