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Annual Report 2019 - 2020

What we did over the past year

This year was the second under our five-year strategic plan. The Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2018–2023 clearly sets our direction and policies, how we will target our resources in the face of growing demand for our services, and how we will develop and support our staff.

These are some of the ways we progressed initiatives arising under the plan.

Streamlining pathways to and between our services

We aim to provide a single, integrated entry point to the legal assistance sector, with one telephone number, digital self-help options and consistent triage of people to the right level and type of service.

This year we took over management of the LawAccess NSW call centre to commence the development of a single entry. This included trialling the diversion of calls from two Legal Aid NSW offices to LawAccess NSW for triage. We also prepared for the formal transfer of LawAccess NSW to Legal Aid NSW in July 2020.

With funding from the NSW Public Purpose Fund, we completed a suite of digital client projects to increase access, reduce stress, and minimise wait times for clients and the public. Read more on ‘Highlights this year’.

Improving how our clients engage with us

We built a scaled-up Grants Tracker that allows all clients to track the status of their grant application. Our aim is to improve our clients’ experience of the grant application process and reduce client uncertainty related to the status of their applications.

We launched online guided pathways for people with legal problems relating to traffic matters and fines. Our aim is to assist people to find tailored solutions to deal with their fines and low complexity traffic offences. This will help reduce call volumes and free up staff so their time can be redirected to more disadvantaged and vulnerable clients, while maximising client satisfaction.

We also designed a client portal and explored how online triage could work to connect the public with appropriate services when they have a legal problem. Importantly, we further refined and tested the triage process that will be applied for all people seeking assistance from Legal Aid NSW. It provides a transparent way for people to be directed to the right type and level of service quickly – reducing waiting times and confusion.

Read more about these initiatives on ‘Highlights this year’.

Increasing access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

We are strongly committed to providing services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW.

The percentage of services provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has increased every year for the last five years. In 2019–2020, 18.3 percent of all casework services were delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, compared with 15.7 percent for combined case and in-house duty services in 2018–2019.

We also worked to increase access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the development of our Aboriginal Client Services Strategy 2019–2023. We developed a publication, Best practice standards for representing Aboriginal clients, to provide lawyers with practical information and guidance on how to be conscious of culture and non-verbal cues when representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients. Read more on 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients’.

Supporting private lawyers to deliver quality legal aid services

Members of the private legal profession play a critical role in delivering legal aid services.

Over the last 18 months, we have been talking with private lawyers about how we work together and what we could do better. As a result of those conversations, we reviewed our panel appointment process, sought funding from the NSW Government to increase fees, and developed a comprehensive framework to help us engage with private lawyers better.

We will implement this framework over the year to come. We will simplify our panel appointment process, set clear standards so private lawyers know what we expect of them, provide support and training so private lawyers can continue to deliver high-quality legal aid services, and ensure we intervene early when concerns are raised about the quality of the services being delivered to our clients. We have also received $88 million from the NSW Government to increase the fees we pay to private lawyers for doing legal aid work. Read more on 'Private lawyers'.

Outstanding achievements

This year saw several outstanding staff and team achievements across the organisation:

  • The Work and Development Order Scheme was awarded a Premier’s Award in 2019 for Tackling Longstanding Social Challenges.
  • Civil lawyer Merinda Dutton, a Gumbaynggirr Barkindji woman, was named the National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year in 2019.
  • Refugee Service Community Engagement Officer, Nohara Odicho, received a Humanitarian Award in 2019.
  • Port Macquarie Solicitor in Charge Juliana Crofts was recognised as the Government Lawyer of the Year at the 2019 NSW Women Lawyers’ Achievement Awards.

Read more on ‘Professional and personal achievements’.

Working with the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department to implement improvements to the family law system

We commenced four major projects in 2019–2020:

  • The Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme started on September 10, 2019.
  • A new small property mediation trial commenced in January 2020 with staff recruitment, training of staff, policies passed by the Board, and new services.
  • Full-time men’s support services were introduced in all family law court registries.
  • Financial support workers were recruited in two Legal Aid NSW locations for multidisciplinary approaches to domestic and family violence.

Ongoing monitoring and reporting is in place in compliance with the reporting requirements of the Attorney-General’s Department. Read more on ‘Family law’.

Establishing a legal service for people to share their stories

Following the establishment of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Royal Commission), Legal Aid NSW led a consortium of Legal Aid Commissions through National Legal Aid to successfully tender for funding and establish a legal service to support people tell their stories to the Royal Commission.

Your Story Disability Legal Support (Your Story) is a national, free legal service that provides independent information and advice to people with a disability, their families, carers, supporters and advocates to safely share their stories with the Royal Commission. Your Story works in partnership with the National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS) to deliver this service, working closely with disability advocates across Australia. As of June 30, 2020, Your Story provided 1,989 services across Australia.

Your Story is funded until June 30, 2022 and is working closely with the Royal Commission and its program of activities.

Our Community Legal Education Branch also created resources to support the launch of Your Story. Read more on 'Community legal education'.

Creating awareness of the value of our work

A series of staff podcasts, video interviews and profiles were produced to encourage our staff and partners to reflect on the values they stand for and how their work contributes to a fairer society. It also highlighted the specific expertise of Legal Aid NSW staff, the full range of Legal Aid NSW’s services and the many different groups of people we serve.

We promoted the series on our social media platforms, major podcast platforms and our website. Social media promotion of the series was done organically, and overall engagement on all platforms tracked well above our benchmarks.

A strategic plan website was launched on November 1, 2019 for staff and stakeholders to learn more about the Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2018–2023 and its related programs of work. It is a snapshot of our five-year plan and features up-to-date actions and news.

Using information technology to deliver our services more effectively

We implemented the second phase of our Client and Case Management System (CCMS) replacing the legacy system. Over 1,000 staff were trained on the new system.

We also implemented two robotics automations to bring efficiencies to onerous manual processes prone to human error. This resulted in a more efficient audit compliance process in our Grants division and the automatic update of a prisoner’s location in CCMS.

The accelerated rollout of Microsoft Teams across the organisation ensured that staff had the necessary collaboration tools in place to foster the remote working environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology stepped in to facilitate remote face-to-face meetings and aided collaboration in a remote space.

We also launched a new, engaging intranet that provides staff with the information and resources they need to work, including tools like the Legal Locator to assist staff in finding information about offices and duty services more easily.

Read more about our information technology achievements on 'Information technology’.