Ontario Regional Office
Regulatory Law Section
The Regulatory Law Section has effective governance in place that provides sound strategic direction.
Effective oversight bodies with clear mandates/terms of reference are essential for ensuring that an organization maintains its strategic focus.
The Regulatory Law Section has a formal governance mechanism in place that ensures strategic direction is provided to its employees. The Director and Deputy Director constitute the management cadre of the RLS. They provide ongoing strategic advice to the core staff that includes various levels of counsel, paralegals, and legal assistants.
The audit examination confirmed that employees of the RLS are active participants in regional and national committees. The ORO has a variety of committees (e.g. Employment Equity, Labour Management, Management, Litigation, Library, Policy Advisory, Training and Development). The auditors selected for detailed examination three regional committees that are most relevant to the oversight of the RLS’s business. These are the ORO Management Committee, the Regional Law Practice Management Committee, and the ORO Litigation Committee. The Management Committee, chaired by the RDG, is the central decision-making body for the ORO. The Regional Law Practice Management Committee deals primarily with procedural and law practice issues, standards of quality, consistency in legal services delivered in the ORO, and consistency of regional practices relative to national practices. It is co-chaired by a General Counsel, RLS, and a Director and Senior Counsel, Business Law Section. The ORO Litigation Committee reviews case materials to ensure departmental standards are met, advises the RDG on all of its findings, and decides when, or if, the Deputy Attorney General or Attorney General should intervene. Members include all directors and deputy directors, and designated representatives from each section.
All three committees have clearly articulated mandates and terms of reference. The examination of committee activities revealed that committee members receive complete, accurate, and timely information for decision making. Participants advised the audit team that the committee chairs provide appropriate direction. Issues that cannot be resolved in one committee are referred to an appropriate committee for resolution. The auditors’ examination of these committees’ activities confirmed that they are effective and provide reasonable oversight to the RLS.
The recording and communication of the results of regional committee meetings require improvement.
We found that the results of the deliberations of the three committees referred to above are communicated in different ways. The results of the Litigation Committee and the Regional Law Practice Management Committee meetings are documented. Formal minutes are not taken at the Litigation Committee and the notes, which are taken, are used mainly for debriefing and are not distributed. In the case of the Regional Law Practice Management Committee meetings, when substantive issues are discussed and follow-up action is required, notes are sent via email to participants. These notes are not widely distributed. The results of the ORO Management Committee are documented, circulated to committee members, and posted on the ORO Intranet. A review of the minutes of the Management Committee showed that decisions are not included in the minutes.
Minutes of meetings are meant to capture essential information that was discussed during a meeting. They serve as a monitoring tool and a means of communicating information to other managers and staff. Minutes that include a record of decisions need to be taken at all regional committee meetings where this is not already the practice.
Recommendation and Management Response
1. It is recommended that the ORO Regional Director General ensure that minutes of regional committee meetings are taken, identify action required, and are communicated to staff.
I agree. The Regional Director General will direct regional committees in the ORO to improve the recording and communication to staff of the results of regional committee meetings. Specifically, the regional committees that do not already do so will be directed to prepare minutes of their meetings which capture essential information that is discussed during committee meetings, a record of decisions taken, and required follow-up action. All committees will be directed to ensure appropriate distribution to ORO staff after thorough vetting by committee members to ensure the protection of legal privileges such as solicitor-client privilege as well as the due protection of any privacy or other sensitive interests (such as security interests) pursuant to applicable ATIP or other legislation, regulations, policies, directives or guidelines. Timeframe: May 31, 2010.
The Regulatory Law Section has a comprehensive Business Plan in place for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
Setting and documenting organizational objectives are important steps in ensuring that professional and support staff are clearly informed of expectations. Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, and time-related. Business planning is used by successful organizations to identify issues, activities, and initiatives that will contribute to the achievement of stated objectives. It is also the process by which managers identify priorities—an important aspect of managerial responsibilities.
We examined the 2009-10 Business Plan for the ORO Regulatory Law Section, which was dated October 7, 2008. The Business Plan is organized into the following sections:
- Who We Are and What We Do – This contains a narrative description of the main areas of focus for RLS, its organizational structure, its legal activities, and its financial resources.
- Our Environmental Scan – This provides a list of key environmental factors that may impact the RLS’s work in 2009-10, such as increased client demand for legal services arising from overarching federal government priorities and the continued rise in the proportion of complex and truly national files relative to the total number of files handled.
- Our Priorities – This provides the priorities of the RLS that are established with reference to the priorities of the government, the Clerk of the Privy Council, and the Department. The business priorities for 2009-10 include negotiating specific key commitments with the DM Team, implementing Public Service renewal, and supporting the national law practice management initiatives. Management priorities include providing high quality legal services; demonstrating excellence in planning; and managing financial, contracting, and human resources.
- Managing Our Risk – This identifies a number of risks associated with the pursuit of the Regulatory Law Section’s mandate. The major identified risk is that there are too many new external and internal pressures to accommodate realistically when considered against the context of the core mandate. The Section’s core mandate already suffers from a chronic shortage of funding, particularly O&M funding.
It is the audit team’s opinion that the RLS 2009-10 Business Plan is comprehensive and meets departmental standards. The Business Plan was completed well in advance of the new fiscal year.
The Regulatory Law Section is generally well organized to execute its mandate; however, the need for intermediary positions should be determined and these should be reflected in a revised organization chart.
A clear and effective organizational structure is fundamental to the effective management of an organization.
The Regulatory Law Section has a cadre of counsel, paralegals, and legal assistants who provide general legal services to the clients of the Portfolio. There are four teams created to serve specific clients or for specific specialized litigation purposes (e.g. the Employment Insurance Team that provides services to HRSDC and the class action teams that provide services to Health Canada and to the Department of National Defence). We were told that this operational organization has been in place for a number of years.
We examined the RLS organization chart, which came into effect July 1, 2009 and was approved August 7, 2009. The chart depicts the full complement of positions allocated to the Section. We noted that the chart does not reflect the team structures in place in the RLS. The audit team was advised that the nature of the RLS’s litigation practice requires the ongoing reassignment of staff to different teams to ensure teams comprise lawyers with the appropriate mix of skills and expertise. In view of this, it is not practicable to reflect team structures in the organization chart.
We noted that the organization chart indicates that all employees report directly to either the Director or the Deputy Director, including all legal assistants reporting to the Deputy Director. In our view, the need for intermediary positions to better address the Section’s operational requirements should be determined and reflected in a revised organizational chart.
Efforts are under way to reduce the span of control of the RLS Director.
Span of control is an important element in the structure of an organization. It refers to the number of subordinates who report directly to a manager or supervisor and includes the functions of planning, organizing, and leading. A narrow span of control occurs when each manager supervises a small number of employees, while a wide span of control occurs when a large number of subordinates report directly to a given manager. Job complexity and job similarity are factors influencing the span of control. Managers should have an appropriate span of control in order to manage effectively.
An examination of the RLS organization charts indicated that all of the RLS employees report directly to either the Director or the Deputy Director. The RLS Director has 62 counsel positions and two administrative officer positions reporting to him directly. We were informed by the RLS Director that his span of control has been steadily increasing in recent years due to increasing demand for legal services and the addition of the Public Law Group to the Regulatory Law Section. The addition of the Public Law Group that took effect on April 1, 2009 added 22 FTEs to the RLS. The Director indicated that managing the growing number of employees has become increasingly challenging. Both he and the Deputy Director confirmed that they are spending a greater proportion of their time on administrative and human resource matters (e.g. performance appraisals, individual learning plans, succession planning, employment equity). At the same time, they are continuously challenged to manage the operational aspects of the RLS. Given this situation, there is a potential risk that the Director may not be able to focus sufficiently on more strategic management challenges.
The ORO Regional Director General also acknowledged that the RLS Director’s wide span of control is a concern and she is actively pursuing options to resolve this issue. A detailed rationale for the addition of another Deputy Director has been developed outlining the span of control problem in the RLS. The rationale will be submitted to the departmental Exceptions Committee. Given the expanding breadth of the RLS’s legal work and the number of employees, the addition of a Deputy Director will help to alleviate the management burden placed on the Director and incumbent Deputy Director.
It is our view that the Regional Director General is undertaking appropriate measures to resolve the span of control issue in the RLS.
Recommendation and Management Response
2. It is recommended that the RLS Director, in conjunction with the ORO Human Resources Director, determine the need for intermediary positions and reflect these in a revised organization chart.
I agree. Some action has already been taken since the on-site examination phase of the audit to address this issue. Specifically, the RLS organizational charts have been revised to reflect the creation of two new positions, Business Manager (AS-04) and Manager, Legal Operations (AS-03), respectively. Responsibility for the immediate supervision of all legal assistants in the RLS (CR-05s) is being transferred from the Deputy Regional Director to the AS-03. This will permit a better reallocation of line reporting relationships of legal counsel to the Regional Director and Deputy Regional Director. Staffing of these new positions has been initiated. Our Human Resources advisors have also advised that our org charts may only reflect the information contained in the PeopleSoft system. Functional (team) relationships are not reflected in PeopleSoft.
Completed, in part, as outlined above. Nevertheless, ongoing efforts by the RLS Regional Director will continue on a regular basis as org charts are revised and updated, to identify opportunities to better reflect actual working relationships of longer duration in the RLS.
The RLS has effective workload management practices.
Management is responsible for actively monitoring workload and ensuring that staff are working efficiently and effectively.
Most of the litigation file work arrives in the RLS as a result of documents served daily upon the ORO. These include originating documents such as statements of claim and notices of application, and may also be received from the Litigation Branch in Ottawa, the national Class Actions Coordinator and legal services units in the Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio or the Public Safety, Defence and Immigration Portfolio.
The Director and Deputy Director have primary responsibility for workload management. Initially, cases referred to the RLS are reviewed by the Director and/or Deputy Director to determine/confirm the risks associated with the case. Files are then assigned to counsel who have the required experience and skill sets. Once a file has been assigned to a lead counsel, that individual becomes accountable for the ongoing risk assessment and overall management of the file. Often, a team of counsel will be assembled to handle the case. The selection of the team members is typically predicated on their experience, skill sets, and availability.
We interviewed several senior counsel who lead litigation teams and reviewed supporting documentation to assess how the files were being managed. We noted that cases were re-assessed on a regular basis vis-à-vis their risk; that risk ratings were revised expediently; and that these activities were documented and on file. We also noted that, as risk ratings were revised, changes in the work team complement were made, as necessary, commensurate with the most recent risk rating.
In terms of overall workload management, iCase is used to record and track the progress of all cases handled by the RLS. The system is not only the basis for monitoring operational progress but also for ensuring that counsel assigned to a specific case are recording the time worked on a timely basis.
The audit team’s examination revealed adherence to the risk management and resourcing requirements set out in the departmental Risk Management Framework. In our view the workload practices of the RLS are effective and help ensure that productivity is maximized.
Management has in place effective performance monitoring and reporting practices.
The RLS 2009-10 Business Plan indicates that the RLS provides advisory and litigation services to the Business and Regulatory Law and the Public Safety, Defence and Immigration portfolios. The Business Plan further indicates that it reports against the Department’s strategic outcomes, which include a fair, relevant, and accessible justice system that reflects Canadian values and a federal government that is supported by effective and responsive legal services.
Business plans are high-level documents that are linked to the Department’s Program Activity Architecture as stated in the Departmental Report on Plans and Priorities. At the operational level, business plans are supplemented by operational plans in order to provide the manager with a basis for monitoring actual versus planned results. As noted above, the RLS uses the iCase system to plan and monitor its workload (i.e. its operational activities).
We examined the above-noted Business Plan and found that it provides a foundation against which achievement of priorities and management of risks can be monitored. Business plans are supported by financial plans and human resource plans that indicate the financial and human resources that are required to deliver the Business Plan.
The audit examination revealed that ORO Finance regularly prepares financial situation reports (FSRs) that provide the RDG with the actual versus planned financial resources at the ORO. The information contained in FSRs is based on the input provided by each organizational unit. The RLS Director regularly monitors input to the FSRs and, in so doing, is exercising effective management of the Section’s financial resources. Furthermore, by using iCase and the FSRs, the RLS Director is able to monitor both operational and financial activities. On the basis of this information, the Director identifies variances and takes remedial action.
It is our opinion that the RLS Director has effective monitoring and reporting practices in place.
The RLS uses an extensive set of policies and procedures that are well communicated to staff.
Written policies and procedures should be in place in any organizational unit, as they help promote the conduct of activities in a consistently effective, efficient, and economical manner, and help provide assurance that the organization’s resources are safeguarded.
The RLS uses both departmental and Business and Regulatory Law Portfolio (BRLP) policies and procedures for the conduct of its work. For example, in carrying out its core business of litigation, the RLS follows the guidance provided in the “Civil Litigation Desk Book”. This document provides extensive information and guidance on the conduct of civil litigation, crown proceedings, and other particular subject areas. In our view, it is a useful tool for RLS legal counsel involved in the delivery of litigation services.
Departmental and BRLP policies, procedures, directives, and guides pertaining to both operational and administrative matters are readily available to RLS employees on the departmental Intranet, JUSnet.
The auditors’ review of the Intranet information and documentation confirmed that clear and comprehensive guidance is readily available to RLS staff. This guidance is intended to foster consistency in practices for both operational and administrative activities.
From our interviews with RLS employees and our review of documentation, we found that staff were regularly provided with clear and sound direction regarding both operational and administrative matters. Direction is communicated in a variety of ways (e.g. through meetings, retreats, e-mail, telephone calls). Also, in the RLS, as in other professional environments, mentoring has proven to be a most effective means of providing direction. For example, we were informed during interviews with senior legal counsel that they spend a significant amount of their time mentoring junior counsel on their teams. Junior counsel advised the audit team that regular mentoring is a very effective way of learning.
It is our opinion that sound direction is provided to the staff of the RLS regarding both operational and administrative matters.
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