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Annual Report 2016 - 2017

Private lawyers

Legal Aid NSW works in partnership with private lawyers, who receive funding from us to represent legally aided clients in assigned matters.

Private lawyers are appointed to Legal Aid NSW panels under sections 49 to 52B of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979.

In 2016–2017, private lawyers provided 43.2 per cent of Legal Aid NSW case and duty services. More details appear in Appendix 6.

The Grants Division of Legal Aid NSW (Grants) receives, determines and manages legal aid applications from private lawyers and the Legal Aid NSW in-house practice. Applications are submitted and managed electronically. Staff in this division have regular telephone contact with lawyers and clients.

Fact file
Total staff: 77
Total applications for legal aid processed: 47,529
  - in criminal law: 29,129
- in family law: 16,450
- in civil law: 1,950
Number of individual lawyers appointed to 12 Legal Aid NSW panels*: 1,980
Percentage of legally aided case and duty services provided by private lawyers: 43.2%

* This includes lawyers appointed to more than one panel

Number of private lawyers on Legal Aid NSW panels 2016–2017*
General Criminal Law 1,301
General Family Law 828
Care and Protection** 244
Serious Criminal Law 212
Children’s Criminal Law 184
General Civil Law 153
Mental Health Advocacy 148
Independent Children’s Lawyer 136
Specialist Barrister Panel (Criminal Appellate Matters) 90
Specialist Barrister Panel (Complex Criminal Law) 73
Domestic Violence 51
Veterans’ Law 4

* This includes lawyers appointed to more than one panel.
** 152 of the 244 Care and Protection Panel members are appointed to act for children as well as adults.
All of the numbers include current active panel members whose appointment start dates are before 30 June 2017.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

More private lawyers were available to represent legally aided clients

Private lawyers doing legal aid work are required to be a member of a Legal Aid NSW panel. Panels operate in all areas of law, including general panels in criminal, family and civil law. There are specialist panels for care and protection, independent children’s lawyers, serious criminal law, children’s criminal law, mental health advocacy, veterans’ law and domestic violence matters and for barristers briefed in complex criminal matters and criminal appellate matters.

Legal Aid NSW panels host 1,980 individual private lawyers who are current members of one or more panels.

In 2016–2017, there were 651 appointments of new lawyers to our panels. In addition, we reappointed 202 current panel members whose five-year panel appointments expired throughout the year. This means that panel lawyers will continue to be available to represent legally aided clients.

Parents and children in Moree and Broken Hill now have somewhere to turn

Legal Aid NSW identified the need for better access to legal representation in care and protection proceedings in Moree and Broken Hill. To address this, we selected a group of lawyers as ‘preferred providers’ to represent children, parents and others, on behalf of Legal Aid NSW in child protection matters.

Pilot schemes in Broken Hill and Moree have strengthened our position to deliver a consistent, high-quality supply of lawyers in care and protection matters to service these communities. In both towns, the pilots are being accompanied by an increased Legal Aid NSW in-house presence.

A new Domestic Violence Panel provides specialist legal assistance

The Domestic Violence Panel replaces the Domestic Violence Practitioner Scheme, which operated as a duty service in some Local Courts. The panel is a specialist state-wide panel open to solicitors and barristers in private practice. Lawyers appointed to the panel are expected to have specialist knowledge and skills in providing legal assistance to victims of domestic and family violence.

The panel re-opened for applications in December 2016. We received 206 applications from private lawyers, which are under consideration by the panel selection committee. The panel will be operational again in the second half of 2017 once selection of lawyers for the panel is completed.

Disability awareness e-learning module

The disability awareness e-learning module was made available for panel lawyers and community workers to increase awareness among panel lawyers about people with disability and the issues they face. It contains information about different disabilities, common misconceptions, dos and don'ts when interacting with people with disability, and how to minimise barriers for them.

OBJECTIVE Excellence in legal services

Lawyers complied better with practice standards due to audits

Audits are a part of our general business practice and are important as they enable Legal Aid NSW to verify that work has been done and that claims are accurate.

We conducted 41 per cent more panel lawyer audits this year—auditing 705 panel lawyers and 3,448 files/claims and requesting refunds of $142,770—close to our target.

Spot check audits of claims were a priority. This year, we focused on claims for general disbursements, client conferences and prison visits, preparation of court documents in care matters, and court time in indictable crime matters.

There has been an overall improvement in compliance with the practice standards by panel lawyers in relation to file management and the maintenance of adequate file notes, including start and finish times for all court appearances.

We also completed file audits of 16 files for three panel lawyers appointed to the General Criminal Law Panel, General Family Law Panel and the Care and Protection Panel.

A review of our audit strategy is in progress.

Maintaining professional standards and using public money efficiently

Year Number of lawyers audited Number of files/spot check audits Refunds requested
2013-2014 225 1,514 $152,213
2014-2015 116 602 $11,713
2015–2016 503 2,046 $84,076
2016–2017 705 3,448 $142,770

"We conducted 41 per cent more panel lawyer audits this year."

Some lawyers failed to cooperate with audit

Failing or refusing to cooperate with a Legal Aid NSW audit can have serious consequences for panel lawyers under section 52B (11) of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 including removal of the lawyer from panels to which the lawyer is appointed. In 2016–2017, four panel lawyers were removed from the panels to which they were appointed because they failed to cooperate with an audit. In addition to this, two panel lawyers requested to be removed from all panels to which they are appointed after receiving an audit notification from Legal Aid NSW.

Panel lawyers received regular updates about audit issues and activities in monthly Legal Aid News bulletins. There has been a particular emphasis on alerting panel lawyers to the increase in audit activity and the potential serious consequences of not cooperating with an audit request.

Monitoring breaches of service agreements

Legal Aid NSW investigates apparent breaches by panel lawyers of panel service agreements and refers matters to the Monitoring Committee. The Committee, which comprises nominees from the Law Society of NSW, the New South Wales Bar Association and Legal Aid NSW, makes recommendations to Legal Aid NSW about lawyers who have breached panel service agreements.

During 2016–2017, we investigated 61 panel lawyers; however no referrals were made to the Monitoring Committee for apparent breaches of the service agreement. More than 50 per cent of these matters related to the General Criminal Law Panel—the largest of the panels.

We have recently updated our Learning Management System module called an “Introduction to Professional Practices”. It provides information about how Legal Aid NSW manages panels of private lawyers, the audit process and investigation of apparent breaches of service agreements.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

Seminars and technology provide practical support to private lawyers

Free seminars conducted for private lawyers on Grants policies and procedures and the use of Grants Online took place in Armidale, Bathurst, Byron Bay, Dubbo, Parramatta and Tamworth.

Legal Services Commissioner, Mr John McKenzie, joined with our staff to present the sessions in Tamworth and Armidale.

The Dubbo and Bathurst sessions included a clinical training component for local lawyers that fitted within the broader Regional Service Delivery Plans of our regional offices. The clinical training components for these seminars were delivered by a local Magistrate and the senior lawyer of the regional office.

A Central Sydney session was webcast to lawyers across the state.

The year ahead

  • Develop and implement a new panel of private lawyers for Sexual Assault Communication Privilege matters.
  • Complete the next five-year review of the Care and Protection Panel, General Family Law Panel and Veterans' Law Panel.
  • Re-open the Specialist Barrister Panel (Complex Criminal Law) for applications from current panel members and new applicants.
  • Appoint new panel lawyers to support the Domestic Violence Panel across New South Wales.
  • Finalise the review of the Panel Lawyer Audit Strategy and implement its recommendations.
  • Review the way we conduct our grants processes in order to make improvements.
  • Implement new grants processes resulting from early appropriate guilty plea reforms.