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Annual Report 2020 - 2021

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 the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 (NSW). This year, private lawyers provided 69.8 percent of all casework services, and 40.6 percent of all duty lawyer services. Further details appear in Appendix 5.

Total panel members

2016–20171,980
2017–20182,146
2018–20192,184
2019–20202,152
2020–20211,521
Number of private lawyers on Legal Aid NSW panels 2020–2021*
General panels
General Civil Law Panel286
General Family Law Panel636
Summary Criminal Law Panel1,115
Specialist panels
Appellate Criminal Law Barrister Panel91
Care and Protection Panel304
Children’s Criminal Law Panel491
Complex Criminal Law Barrister Panel198
Domestic Violence Panel518
Independent Children’s Lawyer Panel121
Indictable Criminal Law Panel602
Indictable Criminal Law Barrister Panel373
Mental Health Advocacy Panel361

*Some lawyers are active members of more than one panel.
Figures include current active panel members whose appointment start dates were before 30 June 2021.

The lawyers who sit on our panels

Private panels

Where our panel lawyers are located*

Private located

*Based on the panel member’s primary office location.

Supporting private lawyers to do legal aid work

Private lawyers provide approximately half of all Legal Aid NSW services. They are a crucial enabler of our ability to deliver legal aid efficiently and effectively across the state. Some regional and remote areas are entirely reliant on private lawyers.

This year has seen the continued implementation of a framework designed to engage more meaningfully with the private profession to support, drive and monitor quality, and to ensure our clients receive the highest quality services.

In July 2020 the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 (NSW) was amended to provide flexibility, responsiveness and quality control of private lawyers funded to do legal aid work. Following this legislative change, we established a new unit, the Private Lawyer Quality Standards Unit, tasked with proactively monitoring the quality of services provided by private lawyers funded to do legal aid work.

Review of fees paid to private lawyers

On 1 July 2020, the base hourly rate in state matters increased from $150 to $160. This was the first increase in fees since 2007 and the first of four annual increases following on from the allocation of $87.7 million by the NSW Government in November 2019.

The rate paid for a gaol visit also increased to be equivalent to twice the base hourly rate, addressing longstanding feedback from private lawyers.

Establishing quality standards

We consolidated 14 different sets of practice and client service standards into one set of quality standards designed to provide private lawyers with clarity on the quality of legal service they are expected to deliver and provide a benchmark for service.

These standards allow us to monitor and enforce quality and support private lawyers in delivering services.

Creating a new panel structure

We shifted our panel model to a law practice-based approach of panel membership. Law practices apply for membership of Legal Aid NSW panels through a principal applicant.

The new service agreement formally embeds the quality standards and holds the principal accountable for managing quality against those standards.

Since launching our new panel structure, we have onboarded 1,509 law practices, with 131 of those not previously a member on any of our panels.

Streamlined panels processes

We reduced the number of panels from 14 to 12. We created a single application form, replacing 14 separate panel applications, and implemented a rolling membership to replace the reapplication requirement. Private lawyers now spend less time chasing information or completing low-value administrative tasks.

Proactive support for private lawyers

We developed a Lawyer Education Series, which provides CPD-accredited training to private lawyers.
We collated and developed other value-adding services available through our website, including:

  • precedents and templates
  • checklists that provide guidance and assistance in running matters in court, and
  • an expansion of our library services to allow private lawyers to receive assistance from our library staff.

Quality assurance

We take a risk-based approach to monitoring quality and implementing quality interventions, such as file reviews and quality audits. To support the improvement of the quality of services provided to clients, we focused on specific areas of practice improvement through the development of annual quality priorities.

1. File audits (now referred to as quality audits)*

2016–201716
2017–201817
2018–201916
Jan to June 202115

*File audits were suspended between July 2019 and January 2021.

2. File reviews

File reviews are a new initiative that commenced in 2021 following the implementation of the private lawyer quality framework.

The total files reviewed between January to June 2021 was 36, with a target of 140 for the 2021 calendar year.

3. Regional visits

We conducted visits to targeted regions to introduce the Private Lawyer Quality Standards Unit and to listen to and encourage feedback from relevant stakeholders.

4. Complaints

We used complaints as the primary mechanism to proactively identify concerns about panel member performance. Since implementing, promoting and embedding our complaints handling processes, we have received a significant increase in complaints.

Complaints received (by calendar year)

201865
201962
202043
Jan to June 2021156

Breakdown of complaints for January to June 2021
by area of law

Crime94
Family38
Civil3
Care and Protection6
Independent Children’s Lawyer13
Cross-examination scheme1
Domestic violence1

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will continue to implement and communicate a consistent approach to supporting the quality of services provided by private lawyers.
  • We will develop and implement a financial audit target action plan undertaking spot-check audits.
  • We will continue to improve and embed our complaints handling processes.
  • We will identify training needs and continue to develop a suite of CPD-accredited training materials.