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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

CEO's report

William Grant, CEO Our new Client Service Strategy will guide us to better tailor our services to the needs of our clients.

This year has been an exciting and productive year at Legal Aid NSW in which we set the strategic direction for Legal Aid NSW for the next few years.

A key focus this year was developing strategies to improve the client experience, to better serve victims of domestic violence, and to address service delivery gaps in remote and regional New South Wales.

All our initiatives are guided by our charter, which requires us to provide legal services to socially and economically disadvantaged people in New South Wales.

Serving people across the state

Almost half of our clients (47%) come from rural and regional New South Wales, and 17,771 legal advice services were provided by our mobile lawyers, many of them in remote parts of the state.

After our review of the gaps in legal services in regional, rural and remote New South Wales, Legal Aid NSW this year expanded services to the people in South Western New South Wales, Far Northern New South Wales and Broken Hill.

We opened a new office in Albury, a satellite office of our office in Wagga Wagga; both now jointly make up the newly named Riverina Murray office of Legal Aid NSW.

We also placed a Legal Aid NSW full-time family lawyer in Broken Hill, employing 10 dedicated committals lawyers, mainly in regional areas, expanded services and partnerships in Moree, and increased our outreach locations across the state.

Putting clients at the centre of what we do

These initiatives are a way to deliver high quality, targeted and consistent services to our clients. Our new Client Service Strategy, developed this year, is ensuring we put clients at the centre of everything we do.

Over the next five years, as we implement the many initiatives outlined in this strategy, we will redesign our business processes and better tailor our services to the needs of our clients.

Supporting women experiencing domestic and family violence

We also strengthened our focus and services for victims of domestic and family violence. This work is driven by the Legal Aid NSW two-year Domestic Violence Strategy.

Many of our clients experienced domestic and family violence, and have many legal problems ranging from apprehended domestic violence orders, and family law (including parenting, child support and divorce), to civil law matters (including victims support, housing and immigration).

A review of 100 Commonwealth-funded family law cases showed that 76% involved allegations of domestic violence.

In January 2016, we established a new specialist Domestic Violence Unit which provides wrap-around legal and non-legal support for victims of violence at crisis point. Legal Aid NSW also received additional Commonwealth funding to set up the new South West Sydney Domestic Violence Unit to help local women, including those from culturally diverse communities.

These units are client-centred and help them tackle the full range of legal problems, bringing a trauma-informed approach to their work.

This year also saw the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program which is managed by Legal Aid NSW. The program manages 28 Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services which this year provided 145,341 services to 39,434 women across NSW.

Working with our partners to provide legal services

Working closely with other legal assistance services and private lawyers is critical to Legal Aid NSW providing services across the state.

Private lawyers provided 41.2% of all Legal Aid case and duty services. We strongly value their support and rely on them to help provide legal aid services across the state.

We partnered with Community Legal Centres, the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) and Family and Community Services to deliver care and protection legal services under the Safe Home for Life reforms.

Increasingly, Legal Aid NSW is partnering with non-legal service providers, including community and health organisations, to better reach clients with legal needs. This year we were involved in 10 health justice partnerships at which we provided legal support in health settings.

Under the National Partnership Agreement, Legal Aid NSW is working with Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) to improve the coordination of legal service delivery. We also worked with Community Legal Centres NSW and community legal centres to negotiate the merger of three centres to form the new Western Sydney Community Legal Centre.

Equipping and developing our staff

This year we introduced a new induction process for lawyers joining Legal Aid NSW to increase their capacity to serve clients with a range of legal needs across the practice areas.

Our focus on staff health and wellbeing led to a revised Code of Conduct and training about the organisation’s speak up culture.

The introduction of Individual Planning, our staff performance development program, provided a new tool for career planning and discussions between staff and their managers.

We introduced the New Leaders Program to nurture and equip future managers with the right knowledge and skills to lead and manage staff.

Our Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan set ambitious Aboriginal employment targets of 6% and continued the successful legal careers pathway and Aboriginal Field Officer programs.

Measuring our performance

We surpassed the 95% benchmark set by the Commonwealth and delivered 99.2% of our representation services to clients experiencing financial disadvantage. Over 78% of our alternative dispute resolution conferences resulted in full or partial settlement.

This year, because of changes under the new National Partnership Agreement, some service figures cannot be compared to last year. However, I can say unambiguously that, despite decreasing Commonwealth funding, Legal Aid NSW had a successful year, with increasing duty services and family dispute resolution conferences, and more outreach locations across New South Wales.

I wish to thank the Board, and its Chair Craig Smith, for their leadership and dedication. I welcome the six new Board members who joined the Board in June 2016, and I wish to particularly thank the outgoing members of the Board for their years of service and support for Legal Aid NSW.

I would also like to thank the Executive team for their support and hard work during the past year, which included many significant strategic initiatives which required vision and commitment.

Most importantly, I want to thank Legal Aid NSW staff and partners in the private profession and legal assistance sector for their dedication to helping our clients.

In this, my fifth year at the helm of Legal Aid NSW, I still continue to be amazed and inspired by the work of our staff. They are at the frontline, making an invaluable contribution to helping our clients—including the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in NSW—resolve their legal issues.

William Grant
Chief Executive Officer