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Annual Report 2016 - 2017

CEO's report

In my first few months as incoming CEO at Legal Aid NSW, it has been my great privilege to visit all our 24 offices and to get to know our staff, understand their work, listen to their feedback and learn about our clients and the challenges they face.

Legal Aid NSW is a busy organisation with dedicated, hard-working staff delivering much needed, high quality legal services to socially and economically disadvantaged clients.

"The needs of our clients and the desire to provide the best possible services is what inspires our staff."

Focusing on the needs of our clients

The needs of our clients and the desire to provide the best possible services is what inspires our staff. We have very consciously put clients at the centre of our work through our five-year Client Service Strategy and establishment of our Client Service Unit.

During this year, we looked at client entry— the way clients first interact with Legal Aid NSW. We have simplified many of the letters we send to clients to make them easier to understand, brought the legal aid application form online and introduced PC kiosks in our offices to facilitate client access to our resources.

Our recent client satisfaction survey showed that 87 per cent of them were satisfied with our services. The survey is more extensive than our earlier survey of advice clients and we will use the information to make our services even better.

Providing innovative legal services to disadvantaged people

Nearly all (98.9 per cent) of our clients suffer financial disadvantage —putting us ahead of the benchmark of 95 per cent we are required to meet under the National Partnership Agreement.

Our in-house lawyers and private panel lawyers represented 37,131 clients (up by 5.1 per cent on the previous year) and provided 196,004 duty services (up 12.3 per cent).

The proportion of Aboriginal clients has increased to 12.8 per cent (for casework and duty service) and exceeds 18 per cent in family law. The number of outreach locations serviced by our dedicated Civil Law Service for Aboriginal People increased, helping us reach more clients in remote Aboriginal communities.

A dedicated lawyer now provides community legal education to Aboriginal people.

We launched our impressive new state-funded Refugee Service providing legal advice, assistance and education on legal issues to newly arrived refugees around the State.

Supporting clients experiencing domestic and family violence remained a strong focus and in one of the highlights of the year we launched the new Family Advocacy and Support Service at four family law court registries. This innovative, federally funded service combines legal and social support to families experiencing domestic violence.

Our Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program led the roll out of the NSW Safer Pathway program for female victims of domestic violence to 21 new locations during the year. Services provided support to nine per cent more clients over the full financial year. The service now also has a state-wide phone number (1800 WDVCAS or 1800 938 227).

Working with our partners in regional and metropolitan New South Wales

Legal Aid NSW continues to work closely with the private profession, community legal centres and other service providers, especially in regional and remote regions to provide legal services through the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program and Regional Outreach Clinic Program.

A further five of our offices developed specific regional service delivery plans to better coordinate service delivery in their area, with more offices to follow.

We have also been working with local partners to review our services in North West New South Wales and along the Victorian border and have rolled out a new preferred provider scheme for private lawyers supplying legal services on behalf of Legal Aid NSW in Moree and Broken Hill.

Private providers this year delivered 43.2 per cent of our case and duty services and our thanks go to all the dedicated professionals who serve our clients well.

Additionally, we have been working closely with other justice partners on a number of initiatives to reduce the trial backlog in the District Court by increasing our role in committals and ensuring early guilty pleas are entered when appropriate.

The close relationships with our partners, especially community legal centres (CLCs) and the Aboriginal Legal Service (ACT/NSW) Ltd (ALS) continues to be strong despite a year in which CLC funding was increased and the ALS cut services in parts of the state.

Listening to and supporting our staff

Staff had extensive input into our review of the role of legal administrative support staff, who support our legal staff and provide customer service to clients. Some changes were made immediately, with other recommendations to be implemented in the longer term.

Staff also participated in the 2016 People Matter Employee Survey, and Legal Aid NSW results were broadly positive and above most other public sector agencies. A number of staff health and wellbeing initiatives are being developed to build on the feedback to further improve our results in coming years.

Legal staff in all divisions received compulsory training in supporting clients who experience domestic and family violence and a new training package was developed and trialled to help staff better deal with clients with mental health issues and intellectual disabilities.

We increased the number of Aboriginal staff from 57 to 69, moving towards our Aboriginal employment target and developed staff in line with our Aboriginal career development strategy.

Thanks

Thanks go to our hardworking staff, our partners in the private and community legal sector, the Board, especially its chair Craig Smith, and to the Legal Aid NSW Executive team for guiding and supporting the work we do.

Special credit is due to Deputy CEO Richard Funston who acted as CEO following the December 2016 retirement of the CEO Bill Grant and his deputy, Steve O’Connor.

Bill Grant sadly passed away shortly after his retirement, but his vision and legacy within Legal Aid NSW will live on for a long time.

Brendan Thomas
CEO, Legal Aid NSW