Departmental Legal Services Unit
Natural Resources Canada
The LSU relies on NRCan’s and the Department of Justice’s information systems for decision-making and accountability purposes.
Management requires reliable and timely information on which to base decisions and provide accountability. A significant amount of that information comes from various computerized information systems.
As noted in “Financial Resources,” the DLSU receives financial reports from the NRCan financial system on a monthly and quarterly basis. The Office Manager reviews the reports monthly and identifies required changes, where appropriate. Timing differences between the Department of Justice’s Salary Management System and NRCan’s financial system are reconciled. The NRCan Sector that received legal services from a Department of Justice regional office or a headquarters group (e.g. Civil Litigation, Public Law Sector) is identified, and approval for the internal charge-back is sought. The reports provide basic information about expenses and commitments, but the LSU’s General Counsel and Executive Director noted that the reports do not allow the LSU to track its expenditures against budget without additional manual manipulation. NRCan is planning to change its financial system starting in 2011-12.
The NRCan LSU can generate timekeeping reports from iCase data for the LSU when required. The LSU also receives reports from other Justice offices, generally at least quarterly. Lawyers are encouraged by the General Counsel and Executive Director to record all of their time and not just the standard day (7.5 hours). The Office Manager follows up to ensure that the LSU’s lawyers enter their timekeeping data before the deadlines set by the Department of Justice, thereby ensuring that the timekeeping reports are complete. The LSU uses the reports to make year-over-year comparisons of the client department sectors that are using the LSU’s services, and to substantiate requests to the client department for additional resources.
The audit team is of the opinion that although the LSU must perform additional manual calculations to track its expenditures against budget, its information systems provide sufficient information for decision making and accountability.
The NRCan LSU’s file management practices are inconsistent and require improvement.
Except for a general policy that staff must work from both print and electronic files, there are no written procedures for file management in the NRCan LSU. As a result, practices differ from person to person. The LSU’s lawyers complete a form in order to open electronic files in the Recorded Information Management System (RIMS), and the legal assistants are responsible for placing documents in the corresponding physical file. However, some lawyers print the documents themselves, while others depend on their assistants. Some print information on a weekly basis, some do not. In the interim, physical files are incomplete, sometimes for several months.
The LSU lawyers use the DOCS Open information system to manage the information on their personal computers. All lawyers have been trained or are scheduled to be trained in using this system. However, because there are no procedures regarding electronic filing, each lawyer files documents differently. Some lawyers were of the opinion that the NRCan LSU would be more efficient if it became a totally paperless office, with all information regarding legal files in a searchable database. Nonetheless, the lack of a single, searchable database is not compromising the LSU’s effectiveness. Its lawyers stated that files can be found when needed, although it could be hard to locate specific opinions. In between file opening and closing, the file’s location is to be recorded in RIMS. We selected a judgmental sample of 13 files from RIMS and verified the physical location. RIMS was also queried to confirm that a further 12 files selected from the records room were recorded as being there. All the files were found in the recorded location.
It is the audit team’s opinion that, while a single searchable database of legal information is a desirable goal, its presumed efficiencies are unlikely to be realized unless file management practices become more consistent. Inconsistencies in file management practices harm productivity, whether the files are on paper or recorded electronically. They make it hard to ensure that all relevant information is associated with a file so that it can be readily passed from one lawyer to another if it changes hands, or if a dormant file needs to be reviewed for its relevance to a current file.
The NRCan LSU has improved its archiving practices.
The NRCan LSU is making a systematic effort to archive its closed files. Prior to the arrival of the current Records Manager, the person who handled records management used word processing software to track the LSU’s files. As a result, some of the NRCan LSU’s files have never been entered into RIMS. This must be done so that the files can be closed in the system and archived. At present, the NRCan LSU has entered 60 boxes of closed files into RIMS for transfer to archival storage, and it estimates there are another 20 boxes remaining.
The audit team concurs with the NRCan LSU’s archiving efforts.
Recommendation and Management Response
6. It is recommended that the General Counsel and Executive Director ensure that consistent electronic and print file management practices are implemented in the NRCan LSU.
I agree. A records management protocol is being developed and will be implemented by September 2010.
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