Office of the Legal Advisor to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces
The DND/CF LA has appropriately described its governance and strategic directions in its Business Plan 2009-2010.
The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) Management Accountability Framework considers internal coherence, corporate discipline, and alignment to outcomes essential for providing effective strategic direction, supporting the Minister and Parliament, and delivering results.
As noted earlier, the DND/CF LA is accountable to the Deputy Minister of National Defence and reports to the ADAG of the PSDI Portfolio in the Department of Justice. The lines of communication with both are good (described more fully in “Interfaces with Other Justice Sectors” and “Interfaces with the Client”). Within the DND/CF LA, the Senior General Counsel and Legal Advisor, the deputy legal advisors, and the Comptroller act as the senior management team overseeing the provision of legal services.
The DND/CF LA has clearly defined and communicated strategic directions and strategic objectives aligned with its mandate in its Business Plan 2009-2010. By providing effective and responsive legal services, the DND/CF LA contributes to the Department of Justice’s strategic outcome of a federal government that is supported by effective and responsive legal services. The range of legal services that the DND/CF LA provides also supports the achievement of the DND/CF’s strategic outcomes.
One of the DND/CF’s priorities is the Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS), which is a plan to rebuild the CF through balanced investment across the four pillars upon which military capabilities are built—personnel, equipment, readiness, and infrastructure. To assist the DND/CF in achieving its commitment to the CFDS, the DND/CF LA is focusing on measures
“to enhance the professional capabilities of its civilian and military personnel and facilitate networking and consultation with key stakeholders”
It is the audit team’s opinion that the DND/CF LA has appropriately described its governance and strategic directions in the Business Plan 2009-2010.
The DND/CF LA has established and documented its objectives and priorities, and communicated them to staff as well as to the DND/CF.
Setting and documenting organizational objectives and priorities are important steps in ensuring that professional and support staff, as well as the client, clearly understand expectations.
The DND/CF LA sets its objectives and priorities during its client’s annual business planning cycle. Each fall the DND/CF LA management team attends a retreat to discuss and review the DND/CF LA’s pressures, its business risks, its client’s risks, the client’s management accountability framework and its Report on Plans and Priorities, and other guidance provided by the client as part of its planning cycle.
Areas of focus for 2009-10 include:
- working with the DND/CF to assist them in identifying their key legal risks and developing action plans to manage the identified risks;
- supporting the rule of law in Afghanistan;
- providing client training to promote more effective management of legal issues across the DND/CF;
- consolidating office transformation activities and leveraging them with a view to positioning the DND/CF LA as the most effective DLSU within the Government of Canada over the next five years;
- placing more emphasis on providing professional development and training, leveraging information technology, and mentoring junior personnel.
The DND/CF LA has documented its objectives and priorities in a variety of written formats—in the DND/CF LA’s business and human resources plans, in a document resulting from the results of a vision-setting meeting, and in its employee orientation manual. Objectives and priorities are also communicated in retreats and meetings with DND/CF LA professional and support staff. Once the business plan is published, the DND/CF LA makes presentations on its contents to clients.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the DND/CF LA sets, documents, and communicates its objectives and priorities appropriately.
The DND/CF LA has assessed the significant risks it faces in achieving its objectives, identified mitigation strategies, and taken action to manage risks.
Management should conduct systematic analysis and communication of current risk exposure. Organizations need to have in place a formal, documented, and institutionalized risk management process, ideally tied to the planning process, to permit the assessment of and response to residual risk exposure.
The DND/CF LA’s Business Plan 2009-2010 contains a section on risks that includes mitigation strategies. Identified challenges that require risk management include the attraction and retention of employees, reduction in resources available as a result of the strategic review process, and significant unforeseen increases in demand for legal services. DND/CF LA weekly management meetings track progress on issues, risks, and the business plan’s mitigation strategies.
It is our view that the DND/CF LA’s risk management is satisfactory.
The organization of the DND/CF LA is appropriate.
The clear delineation of responsibilities, delegated authorities, segregation of duties, and lines of communication support effective coordination between all parties within the organization to ensure that all are aware of, and comply with, their responsibilities.
At the time of the audit, the DND/CF LA, which consisted of approximately 52 DOJ lawyers, 11 JAG legal officers, and 32 support staff Footnote 6, was in the second year of a three-year organizational transformation. This transformation was designed to assist the DND/CF in meeting its emerging and continuing challenges through better coordination of related legal issues and the enhancement of risk and knowledge management. A key element in this transformation has been a reorganization of the DND/CF LA into four divisions:
- Litigation and Legal Advisory Services;
- Commercial Law Advisory Services;
- Public Law Advisory Services;
- Support Services (e.g. finance, human resources, information technology).
A Deputy Legal Advisor at the General Counsel level Footnote 7 heads each division. The DND/CF LA has also created law practice area teams within the divisions to address specific areas of law.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the DND/CF LA is appropriately organized.
Responsibilities and accountabilities in the DND/CF LA are clearly defined.
The Functional Responsibilities Matrix available on the DND/CF LA’s Web site describes the key responsibilities of the law practice teams within each division. The deputy legal advisors have delegated financial and staffing authority, and overall responsibility for assigning and managing the workload in their division. Directors or team leaders reporting to the deputy legal advisors supervise the team members (e.g. lawyers, paralegals, and clerical staff directly supporting the team) on a day-to-day basis. These responsibilities are consistent with those set out in position descriptions. In interviews with the audit team, lawyers and staff described responsibilities that were consistent with the information in the Functional Responsibilities Matrix.
It is the audit team’s opinion that responsibilities and accountabilities in the DND/CF LA are clearly defined.
The DND/CF LA has published comprehensive service standards.
Management must establish performance objectives, targets, and indicators as part of the planning process.
The Department of Justice has developed a generic Service Level Agreement and generic Service Standards for the provision of legal services. According to its Business Plan 2009-2010, the DND/CF LA planned to customize these generic documents and implement them.
A draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of Justice and the DND/CF for the provision of legal services between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2014 describes 10 service standards and operational indicators for each service standard. The service standards detail the language in which services will be provided, the timeliness of response to requests for service, the establishment of deadlines for completion of service, ongoing feedback on requests for service, the provision of legislative and regulatory drafting options, involvement of the client in the development of legal strategy and positions, and identification of means to prevent and resolve legal disputes at the earliest opportunity.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the DND/CF LA’s service standards are satisfactory.
The DND/CF LA appropriately distributes and monitors workload.
Workload should be managed so that client requests for legal services can be processed efficiently while maintaining service quality.
Team leaders assign work to junior lawyers who are new to the DND/CF LA. More experienced or senior lawyers manage their own workload. The Director, Claims and Civil Litigation (CCL), in consultation with the senior paralegal, assigns work to paralegals, who provide litigation support and process claims made against the DND/CF. Managers (team leaders) conduct team meetings and bilateral discussions with individual lawyers to monitor workload and ensure high priority issues are being addressed. Paralegals have daily meetings to review critical issues regarding claims. While iCase reports on the utilization of personnel are available, the DND/CF LA does not use them in managing workload over the short term as the information is not sufficiently timely. (See “Information Systems”.)
Lawyers stated that the DND/CF LA’s workload is high and demanding, with shifting priorities and emergencies that must be dealt with on an urgent basis. Junior lawyers were most likely to state that they can become overwhelmed by the shifting priorities. Paralegals and support staff indicated that their workload varies, but that it is balanced overall. Management advised the audit team that the DND/CF LA can meet typical operational demand, but cannot readily address unexpected increases in demand for services. When this occurs, managers must adjust priorities and reassign work. Positive feedback from the client on the 2008 SPPM survey, particularly on timeliness and usefulness, supports management’s perspective that the DND/CF LA can meet operational demand. Clients contacted by the audit team were also positive about the DND/CF LA’s provision of services.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the DND/CF LA’s workload distribution and monitoring practices are appropriate.
The DND/CF LA monitors client satisfaction.
Management must review performance objectives, targets, and indicators. Processes need to be in place to monitor operational performance on an ongoing basis and feed this information back into the planning process.
As detailed in the MOU between the Department of Justice and the DND/CF, the primary measure of performance is client satisfaction. A client feedback survey developed by the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management (SPPM) in collaboration with Statistics Canada and the Office of the Auditor General is administered at least once every three years to measure satisfaction relative to service standards, and to provide an assessment of the quality of the legal services provided. The survey was last administered in 2008 in the DND/CF LA and showed that the DND/CF LA was generally rated as excellent. In addition to gathering formal feedback through this survey, the Department of Justice and the DND/CF also informally review and discuss, on an ongoing basis, the quality of legal services relative to the service standards and operational indicators, in order to identify opportunities for improving service.
The DND/CF LA’s management team also has ongoing interactions with client executives and conducts an annual survey of individual lawyer’s services that is part of the performance review and employee appraisal process.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the DND/CF LA’s monitoring of client satisfaction is satisfactory.
Effective and appropriate communications are essential in any workplace. Information needs to be shared on a timely basis so that actions can be taken based on current and correct information. Furthermore, documented policies and procedures help promote the conduct of activities in a consistent, efficient, and economical manner.
Communications practices need to be assessed to ensure that information is communicated effectively to all staff.
Information is primarily communicated within the DND/CF LA through a variety of meetings (e.g. all-staff, management team, team stand-ups Footnote 8, bilateral) and an open-door policy. Nonetheless, some lawyers raised the need for more information sharing with colleagues in the LSU. The lawyers stated that, notwithstanding the meetings that take place, they lack information both on the client department and on the activities of their colleagues in other sections of the LSU. They indicated that the stand-ups focus on operational matters and the all-staff and team meetings focus more on administrative items. Lawyers advised that better legal decisions could be made if communications practices in the LSU were improved so that lawyers could exchange more information with their colleagues in other sections of the DND/CF LA.
In our view, a number of factors contribute to the need for enhanced communications practices. The DND/CF LA has both Department of Justice lawyers and military lawyers from JAG. As discussed earlier, DND/CF LA lawyers have high workload demands, which leave them little, if any, unallocated time. Also, the client department organization is particularly large and complex. Footnote 9 We were told that Department of Justice lawyers new to the LSU have much to learn about the DND/CF organization, while JAG lawyers seconded to the LSU have much to learn about the Department of Justice. Furthermore, DND/CF LA lawyers are situated in several different offices in the National Capital Region, and space restrictions in the main office mean that some lawyers regularly telework. As a result, we were told that informal collegial dialogue is not facilitated.
In addition, the DND/CF LA does not have an employee orientation program and its current orientation manual is out-of-date. The DND/CF LA plans to publish a new orientation manual soon after the publication of an updated administrative assistants’ manual early in 2010 (see below). Both documents should help those who are new to the LSU better understand the client’s organization and the DND/CF LA’s structure and responsibilities. The audit team is of the opinion, however, that additional measures may be needed to ensure that all lawyers and support staff have the information they require to carry out their responsibilities.
Plans to update the DND/CF LA’s administrative manuals should proceed, and the updated manuals be communicated to all staff.
Documenting and communicating policies and procedures assist in promoting the conduct of activities in a consistent, efficient, and economical manner.
Within the DND/CF LA we found that professional staff’s awareness of administrative policies and procedures varied. Many lawyers did not know whether or not a manual existed, or if one did, whether it was up-to-date. Several lawyers noted that they rely upon administrative assistants Footnote 10 to conduct activities in accordance with policies and procedures. However, the lawyers further indicated that in the various sections of the DND/CF LA the same tasks (e.g. preparation of briefing notes and ministerial correspondence) are conducted differently resulting in inefficiencies. It is not known if this occurs because the administrative assistants are not familiar with the procedures set out in the manual or because the requirements have changed and the manual has not been updated. The DND/CF LA’s paralegals also advised the audit team that standard operating procedures (SOP) for processing claims would be very beneficial.
The audit team was provided with the manual for administrative assistants. The manual was very detailed, containing information on a large number of administrative tasks (e.g. procedures to follow when someone is joining or leaving the LSU, booking appointments and meetings using the DND/CF electronic calendar, processing expense claims). Although the manual was out-of-date, we were told that there were plans to publish an updated version in early 2010. We were also advised that standard operating procedures (SOP) for claims were under development.
It is the audit team’s view that the existence of written policies and procedures alone is not a sufficient condition for promoting the conduct of activities in a consistent, efficient, and economical manner. It is important that approved, updated procedures are communicated to all staff to assist them with their respective responsibilities.
Recommendation and Management Response
1. It is recommended that the Senior General Counsel and Legal Advisor assess the effectiveness of the DND/CF LA’s communications practices and, if necessary, implement additional communications practices.
Agreed. The following communications practices have been put in place or will be undertaken:
- Orientation Manual completed March 2010, provided to new employees, placed on the shared computer drive, will be placed on the intranet site;
- since 2008 a comprehensive training program for LA1’s;
- management team “open door” policy, section meetings, directors’ meetings, General Counsel meetings, lawyers’ meetings, administrative staff meetings and all staff meetings ongoing;
- January 20, 2010 initiated a weekly E-newsletter;
- monthly informal “Coffee and Cake” get-togethers ongoing;
- meet separately on a regular basis with: LA-1 counsel, military lawyers (JAG legal officers on deployment to DND/CF LA), and Senior Counsel – Expert Practitioners (LA-2B Non-management);
- DND/CF LA website currently being updated (scheduled completion Fall 2010);
- effective communication will be addressed at our next Business Planning retreat September 2010, and our next all-staff meeting.
When we conduct our next well-being survey (fiscal year 2011-12), we will assess the effectiveness of these communication practices and determine whether other practices should be considered.
Recommendation and Management Response
2. It is recommended that the Senior General Counsel and Legal Advisor ensure that plans to update the DND/CF LA’s administrative manuals are implemented, and that the new/revised procedures are communicated to all DND/CF LA staff.
Agreed. The Administrative Manual was published and provided to all administrative staff in March 2010. It will be put on our shared drive and on our intranet by Fall 2010. Standard Operating Procedures for processing claims are continuing to be developed and will be shared within the Claims and Civil Litigation section this fall. Steps have been undertaken to address inefficiencies related to the preparation and tracking of correspondence for the Deputy Minister and Minister. These procedures have been communicated by the DND/CF LA Executive Assistant to the administrative staff.
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