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Annual Report 2021 - 2022

Highlights this year: how we made a difference to clients and communities

In the face of increasing demand for our services, we have fundamentally reshaped the way we work to put our clients at the centre of everything we do and improve the quality of services we provide.

Over the past few years, we have redesigned our service model to respond to the needs and feedback of our clients. This means that our services are more targeted and specialised to reach the people who need us most.

One Legal Aid – streamlining triage, intake and appointments

We launched One Legal Aid, our new streamlined client service delivery model, in May 2022. The model creates consistent access for clients regardless of where they live in NSW, or which office or service they approach. Changes include:

  • an integrated intake function across Legal Aid NSW and LawAccess NSW
  • a new client intake form and a new customer management system for LawAccess NSW integrated with the Legal Aid NSW system
  • a clear and consistent triage process that matches clients to the level of service they require and prioritises clients with greater need
  • a connected system that allows staff to book clients an advice appointment on first contact regardless of whether they approach Legal Aid NSW or LawAccess NSW, and
  • a Statewide Advice Team (SWAT) made up of experienced criminal, family and civil lawyers providing advice over the phone.

The changes have had positive impacts:

  • incoming telephone call volumes have reduced to pre-2019 levels, presumably due to decreased call bounce and wait times for clients
  • we can see what level of service we’re providing – 67% of callers are being directed to in-house clinics or specialist services, and 13% to information only, and
  • SWAT is providing 20% of advice services overall, creating capacity for litigation and specialist teams to increase the volume and intensity of casework services.

A new Statewide Advice Team (SWAT)

Launched as part of One Legal Aid, SWAT is a team of 18 experienced criminal, family and civil lawyers who were previously part of the LawAccess NSW Legal Advice Group. The new team provides advice to eligible clients and helps alleviate in-house workload.
SWAT provides one-off telephone advice through a mix of booked appointments, direct call-backs, and urgent calls. The team ensures local office overflow clients are provided with timely advice, and that people who reside outside of Legal Aid NSW office catchment areas are not disadvantaged by distance.

SWAT also contributes to the creation of legal resources for both staff and the public by updating and adding to the Representing Yourself resources and Law Prompt on the LawAccess NSW website, an information service heavily relied upon by the NSW legal assistance sector. A range of new topics have already been added assistance to both platforms this year, including topics covering Public Health Orders.

Webchat offers welcome support

LawAccess NSW launched webchat in April 2022 to support clients with low complexity legal issues looking to find help quickly. The average wait time for webchat is around a minute and around 50% of chats are resolved with information only. Common legal inquiries through webchat are about:

  • debt issues
  • motor vehicle property damage
  • issues with neighbours around fences, trees, and animals
  • consumer matters
  • parking offences
  • penalty notices and court fines
  • wages and entitlements, and
  • apprehended domestic violence orders.

While many access webchat because it’s convenient, it has also been well received by customers with a disability, who can directly engage without the need for a relay service, and those who feel safer using webchat rather than making a telephone call. On average, customers surveyed rated their satisfaction with the webchat service an average of 4 out of 5 stars.
Prisoners Service Model

The ongoing Prisoners Service Model Project aims to improve the ways we provide legal services to prisoners, starting with gaining a clearer picture of our current practices and looking for opportunities for improvement. The project has:

  • spoken with 23 ex-prisoners about their experience of our services
  • consulted with criminal law staff about barriers to providing services to prisoners
  • conducted an audit of 100 Inner City Local Court files to determine the average number of services provided to clients under a duty file, and
  • completed a literature review to understand the current prison population and changes to that population over time, including as a result of COVID-19.

The volume of our Local Court practice and the needs of prisoners receiving criminal duty services were major themes of this work. Our in-house crime practice provides more than three times as many services to prisoners as the Family Law Division, Civil Law Division and the Prisoners Legal Service combined. Eighty per cent of the criminal law services provided to prisoners are duty services. Amongst the people we spoke with who had recently been released from custody, most experiences with Legal Aid NSW related to duty services provided by in-house and private solicitors.

The project has produced several suggestions about how we could modify duty services to ensure priority prisoner cohorts are receiving the level of service they require. In 2022–2023 the project will produce an end-to-end prisoner model based on further consultations around these options, costings and trials of suggested improvements to service.

Making it easier to access legal help online

We collaborated with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) and the NSW Police Force to enable people charged with a criminal offence in NSW to register for legal help with us online via JusticeHub. The initiative was launched as a pilot with Bankstown, Sutherland, Penrith, Blacktown and Mount Druitt police stations and corresponding Legal Aid NSW offices.

When issuing a court attendance notice, police provide the person with a JusticeHub flyer that has a QR code. When the person scans the QR code, they are taken to the JusticeHub website where they can select the option to ask for legal help from Legal Aid NSW by entering their personal and court details. The request for legal help is then sent to the relevant Legal Aid NSW office, who contacts the client to provide advice and prepare for court.

It is anticipated that making it easier for our clients to ask for legal help prior to their court date will result in:

  • reduced wait times to access a duty lawyer
  • increased client confidence and reduced anxiety about what will happen at court
  • matters being finalised quicker due to reduced adjournments and court delays
  • better allocation of resources by Legal Aid NSW, and
  • police being able to direct people to resources that can help them.

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will launch new Legal Aid NSW Client Service Standards and deliver our client portal – a one-stop-shop for clients to interact online with us about their cases.
  • We will build a new Legal Aid NSW website that is easy to use and integrates the existing LawAccess NSW and Legal Aid NSW websites.
  • We will build an online triage tool to make it easy for people to find the help they need online.
  • We will continue our Prisoners Service Model Project to improve access to legal help.