Tax Law Services Prairie Region
July 2011

3. Observations – Human, financial, and materiel resources

3.1 Human Resource Planning

A formal succession plan for the TLS – Prairie Region needs to be developed and updated regularly.

Succession planning is a continuous, integrated, and systematic approach to developing and retaining employees and corporate knowledge in order to effectively sustain organizational operations. Succession planning activities often focus solely on senior management and leadership positions; however, best practices include consideration of all positions within an organization.

The Associate ADAGs advised the audit team that with respect to succession planning, the TLS – Portfolio focuses more on “knowledge transfer” than on the replacement of people. We found that the TLS – Prairie Region conducts succession planning activities to help facilitate knowledge transfer from senior to junior resources. These activities include the pairing of junior lawyers with more experienced senior lawyers for mentoring purposes. These measures facilitate the sharing of knowledge.

As part of the human resource planning process, regional TLS offices, such as the TLS – Prairie Region, work collaboratively with the TLS Portfolio Office to help develop human resource plans and strategic priorities, including succession plans. The Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, and Director (Acting) are responsible for identifying the region’s succession planning needs and addressing succession planning issues with the support of the TLS Portfolio Office.

The Regional Director advised the audit team that she has informal conversations with the Portfolio Office related to succession planning, and that succession planning is considered and incorporated into the TLS – Prairie Region staffing plan. However, the Regional Director stated that there is no formal succession planning document to guide succession planning initiatives in the TLS – Prairie Region. We confirmed this through our interviews with the Director (Acting), TLS – Prairie Region and the RDG (Acting) of the Prairie Region, who further advised that the creation of a Prairie Region formal succession plan, including the TLS – Prairie Region, is part of his 2010-11 Performance Management Accord.

Senior management in both the TLS – Prairie Region and the TLS Portfolio Office acknowledged that there is a risk associated with the lack of a formal succession plan. Due to the highly technical nature of tax law casework, there is a need to maintain sufficient expertise to address workload capacities.

Succession planning is a critical component of sustaining adequate and appropriate corporate knowledge within an organization. Effective planning requires senior management to review and assess appropriate staffing levels and determine the appropriate technical expertise to meet the organization’s mandate. In our opinion, the TLS – Prairie Region should develop a formal succession plan and update it on a regular basis.

Recommendation and Management Response

1. It is recommended that the Regional Director, TLS – Prairie Region ensure that a formal TLS succession plan is developed and updated on a regular basis. (Medium Risk)

Agreed. The TLS – Prairie Region will work in close collaboration with the office of the ADAG, TLS Portfolio to develop and implement a national succession plan. Completion date: In conjunction with the TLS – Prairie Region, TLS – Ottawa Section, and TLS regional offices, the TLS Portfolio will develop a national succession plan by the end of this fiscal year. This plan will be updated on a regular basis.

3.2 Number and Mix of Resources

The TLS – Prairie Region has an appropriate ratio of legal counsel to legal assistants.

The appropriate number and mix of resources deployed to work activities is critical to effective utilization of resources.

In the TLS – Prairie Region legal assistants provide important assistance to counsel during the lifecycle of a legal file (e.g. preparing process documents for filing in legal proceedings, preparing memoranda, and gathering and categorizing documents).

Both the TLS Portfolio Office and the Portfolio Business Management Section advised the audit team that an acceptable ratio of legal counsel to legal assistants is approximately 3:1. The audit team found that the TLS – Prairie Region has a ratio of legal counsel to legal assistants for each office as follows:

  • Edmonton 3:1,
  • Winnipeg 3.25:1,
  • and Saskatoon 2.7:1.

The Calgary office is a support office to the Edmonton office with only one legal counsel and one legal assistant. The TLS – Prairie Regional Director and the Director (Acting) stated that the number of legal assistants available was sufficient to support the TLS – Prairie Region’s current workload.

In our opinion, the TLS – Prairie Region has an appropriate number of legal assistants available to assist legal counsel in completing their case files.

An organizational review is required to determine the appropriate number of senior counsel for the Winnipeg office.

The TLS – Prairie Region Winnipeg office has a limited number of senior counsel assigned to the office. The TLS – Prairie Regional Director and the Director (Acting) advised the audit team that the current complement of senior counsel within the Winnipeg office is inadequate to meet the demands of senior level work. The Director (Acting) stated that the Winnipeg office has been required to refuse complex files allocated to the office due to the insufficient number of senior counsel available to conduct the work.

The TLS – Prairie Regional Director stated that she would like to see an approach implemented that would promote individuals from within the Winnipeg office to senior counsel; however, the Law Practice Model makes this difficult, as it restricts the ability of management to hire additional senior counsel. We were advised that a formal request was made to the TLS Portfolio Office for permission to hire additional senior counsel to fill vacant positions in the Winnipeg office. Since the implementation of the Law Practice Model, some vacant positions have remained unfilled. Subsequent to the completion of audit fieldwork, we were informed that the TLS Portfolio Office had obtained the Deputy Minister’s approval on behalf of the Winnipeg office to hire one additional senior counsel.

We concur with management’s approach to promote from within the office if feasible. An organizational review would help the TLS – Prairie Region capitalize on efficiencies and identify an appropriate number of senior counsel for the Winnipeg office.

Recommendation and Management Response

2. It is recommended that the Regional Director, TLS – Prairie Region conduct an organizational review to determine the appropriate number of senior counsel for the Winnipeg office. (Medium Risk)

Agreed. The Regional Director, TLS – Prairie Region has already conducted an organizational review of the allocation of senior counsel in all of the TLS Prairie Region offices in conjunction with a Senior Counsel Capacity Analysis. It is recognized that there is a “gap” in the senior counsel complement in Winnipeg – this “gap” has been created by the recent departures of senior counsel from Winnipeg, TLS. The constraints of the Law Practice Model have precluded TLS from being able to offer senior counsel positions in Winnipeg, TLS. That said, a number of initiatives were implemented last year to address the “gap” and to streamline and regionalize our work, increase efficiencies, and break down provincial barriers. Completion Date: January 2011.

3.3 Performance Review and Employee Appraisal Process (PREA)

The PREA process in the TLS – Prairie Region is appropriate.

Performance review is an ongoing process in which an employee and the manager/supervisor jointly establish and monitor objectives. Performance reviews and employee appraisals are intended to provide employees with regular feedback about their performance and identify training and development requirements. The PREA process ensures that employees are given clear work objectives against which their performance will be assessed. Continuous feedback and, at minimum, mid-year and year-end (annual) assessments, allow opportunity for recognition of their achievements and discussion of areas requiring improvement.

Through interviews with TLS – Prairie Region management and staff and a review of relevant documentation, the audit team found that a formal performance appraisal process exists to evaluate employees’ performance, and it is operating effectively. The performance assessments include specific, measurable goals, and management assess results according to these goals and objectives.

3.4 Training and Development

Specific training on Ringtail is planned for all TLS Portfolio staff beginning in the fall of 2010.

Training must appropriately address the needs of the organization while contributing to the development of each employee’s skill set.

The Department has implemented a fully automated litigation support software system known as Ringtail. The main objective of Ringtail is to assist the Department in managing the growing number of large, complex, and multi-document cases. It is also intended to assist with the initiative of moving toward a paperless environment.

The TLS – Prairie Region has a dedicated resource who provides support for Ringtail. The audit team found that Ringtail training is provided to TLS – Prairie Region personnel who have been identified as having an immediate need to access the Ringtail system. Within the TLS – Prairie Region, the Litigation Support Centre is responsible for identifying which employees require training and informing users of upcoming training sessions. In the TLS – Prairie Region there are two categories of training offered: orientation/familiarization training and hands-on training.

The first category, orientation/familiarization training, is designed to introduce legal counsel and support staff, including paralegals, to the basic functional requirements of Ringtail. The intent of these training sessions is to encourage TLS – Prairie Region personnel to understand and use the application when appropriate. The Litigation Support Centre promulgates these training sessions through information made available on the Department’s Intranet. In the near future, the Litigation Support Center is also planning to make video demonstrations available to TLS – Prairie Region staff and to hold seminars.

The second category, hands-on training, is delivered in a one-on-one or small group format. The training is delivered by the Litigation Support Centre and targeted to individuals who use Ringtail throughout the life of a file.

The audit found that the TLS – Prairie Region also planned several Ringtail “Lunch and Learns” for the early part of 2011. These sessions are intended to address various topics from an introduction to Ringtail through to advanced coding and advice on searching for documents.

We were told that in the TLS – Prairie Region, paralegals in particular require additional training on using Ringtail. Both paralegals and legal counsel advised that legal counsel are relying more on the Ringtail system to manage legal documents, since Ringtail is a very good document management tool, which is accessible wherever a secure Internet connection exists. As more legal counsel use Ringtail, paralegals will require more knowledge of and proficiency with the system.

TLS Portfolio Office senior management advised the audit team that Ringtail training specifically tailored to the needs of individual staff groups (e.g. counsel, paralegals, legal assistants) is planned for the early fall 2010 for all personnel in the Portfolio.

TLS – Prairie Region personnel complete individual learning plans and meet the five-day minimum requirement for training under the Department’s Learning Policy.

Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) are plans developed in partnership between a manager and employee. The individual learning plan identifies learning goals, associated learning activities, target dates, and the required investment on the part of the Department and of the employee.

The Department’s Learning Policy requires that every employee receive a minimum of five days of professional development each year. In an effort to record, monitor, and satisfy the mandatory training obligation, all employees must develop an ILP each year. This is done in conjunction with the annual PREA cycle.

We found that TLS – Prairie Region personnel meet their mandatory five-day annual training requirement. We were told that ILPs are generally prepared at the beginning of each new fiscal year during the annual PREA process. Interviews with TLS – Prairie Region personnel indicated that they are generally able to attend the desired training sessions as long as the training relates to their duties and sufficient funds exist within the training budget.

It is our opinion that the TLS – Prairie Region has appropriately met the Department’s requirement for professional development and TLS – Prairie Region personnel have appropriately completed their ILPs.

3.5 Flexible Work Arrangements

Flexible work arrangements in the TLS – Prairie Region are functioning appropriately.

The Department of Justice recognizes the need to support employees in balancing their work and personal lives, while maintaining its ability to operate effectively.

In the TLS – Prairie Region we found that flexible work arrangements are used to attract and retain employees. Senior management indicated that the benefits of flexibility are emphasized to potential recruits during the recruiting process. Both senior management and staff indicated that flexible work arrangements have been made available to all TLS – Prairie Region personnel.

We found that flexible working hours, telecommuting, and earned days off (also known as variable or compressed workweek) are the central forms of flexibility offered in the Prairie Region. Flexible working hours are arrangements in which an employee is authorized to begin and end the workday between certain hours as long as the employee’s workday hours conform to the core hours of between 9:30 and 15:30.

Telecommuting, or working from home, is available in ad hoc situations only. We were told that each request to work from home is reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis and the staff member must be available during the normal course of a business day. The Regional Director indicated that TLS – Prairie Region staff are not permitted to work from home on a regular basis due to the security issues surrounding CRA data, client privacy, and the overall nature of legal work.

In the TLS – Prairie Region, the earned day off is scheduled as a fixed day that occurs once an employee has earned the day. Employees earn days by working an increased number of hours per day over a given period of time. In the Prairie Region, the earned day off is a reoccurring day that usually falls on the last day of the compressed work week schedule. Through interviews with TLS – Prairie Region senior management and staff, we found that there is a measure of flexibility and reasonableness with respect to a staff member being able to take time off on the appointed date. When workload deliverables and deadlines require the presence of the TLS staff member (i.e. in the office or at court), the earned day off is rescheduled. Senior management stated that if TLS staff are required to be in the office on their earned day off, they will, with approval from their supervisor, be able to move the scheduled day off to the early part of the following week.

Overall, we found that TLS – Prairie Region supports employees in achieving a balance between their professional and personal lives while maintaining a functional and professional office.

In our opinion, flexible work arrangements are available to employees and are working well within the TLS – Prairie Region.

3.6 Law Practice Model (LPM)

The TLS Portfolio made a submission to the DM Team to staff senior counsel for new complex and high-risk legal files.

The ability to hire and compensate both senior counsel and individuals with the appropriate, relevant technical expertise is essential for an effective and proficient legal workforce. Salary level is a significant factor in recruiting and retaining legal counsel.

In the fall of 2009, the Department implemented the Law Practice Model as part of a move to cut approximately $12.5 million from the Department’s overall budget as identified through a 2008 Strategic Review. In doing so, the Law Practice Model directly impacted how the Department’s portfolios were structured with respect to the number of lawyers comprising each classification level.

The Department of Justice has six distinct classification levels that apply to legal personnel (LA-1 to LA-3C). The salary level for each classification reflects the complexity of work and specialized legal expertise of the position. During our consultations with TLS – Prairie Region personnel and management, we were advised that salary levels for counsel within the TLS Portfolio and the Department of Justice are not as competitive as those offered by the private sector and some provincial governments. To mitigate this challenge, management stated that TLS – Prairie Region recruiters now emphasize the rich variety of TLS legal work, mentorship opportunities from highly trained and very experienced TLS counsel, and flexible work arrangements.

The TLS – Prairie Region senior management advised the audit team that the implementation of the Law Practice Model is a significant factor impacting all facets of operations including hiring and retention. There is a perception that the Law Practice Model limits management’s ability to both promote capable staff and offer appropriate compensation to top recruits. TLS – Prairie Region management emphasized that the Law Practice Model does not support the highly technical and specialized demands of TLS work and the requirement for senior counsel. Prairie Region management advised that the implementation of the Law Practice Model has in effect resulted in junior lawyers working on complex case files and that this work allocation is not sustainable. The TLS – Prairie Regional Director and the Director (Acting) advised the audit team that the current complement of senior counsel within the Winnipeg office is inadequate to meet the demands of senior level work. We were told that the Winnipeg office has had to refuse complex files allocated to the office due to the insufficient number of senior counsel available to conduct the work.

TLS Portfolio senior management advised the audit team that the Portfolio has made a formal submission to the Deputy Minister requesting to staff senior positions to address the issues noted above. It should be noted that subsequent to the completion of audit fieldwork, the TLS Portfolio Office had obtained the Deputy Minister’s approval on behalf of the Winnipeg office to hire one additional senior counsel.

3.7 Procedure Manual

There is appropriate procedural guidance for administrative personnel in the TLS – Prairie Region.

Effective organizations consistently prepare detailed job descriptions, procedure manuals, and guiding documents for their employees. Procedure manuals are intended to provide formal guidance and comprehensive information on completing a particular task. If procedure manuals are not in place, an organization should have other appropriate options available to assist administrative personnel and other non-legal personnel through unfamiliar situations.

We found that there are no formal TLS-specific procedure manuals in place to help guide administrative personnel in their assigned duties. However, administrative personnel in the TLS – Prairie Region stated that sufficient departmental manuals and TBS guiding documents are available for reference purposes when administrative staff encounter new situations. Although more formalized TLS-specific manuals could benefit the TLS – Prairie Region administrative staff, the audit team was informed by administrative personnel that they rely on the services of the Portfolio Business Management Section and Regional Corporate Services for guidance and direction. Administrative personnel further advised that they are satisfied with the guidance and direction they receive from both groups.

We also found that administrative personnel use the TLS information system, Fiscal Path, to obtain additional guidance on TLS-specific matters as well as other resources available on the Departments Intranet.

In our opinion, appropriate procedural guidance is available to assist TLS – Prairie Region administrative resources with their duties.

3.8 Administration of Financial Resources

The administration of financial resources in the TLS – Prairie Region is appropriate.

The successful management and administration of financial resources within an organization is an essential responsibility of senior management.

The TLS – Prairie Region works collaboratively with Regional Corporate Services in monitoring and administering the TLS – Prairie Region’s financial resources and ensuring compliance with financial policies and procedures.

A Regional Corporate Services financial officer stated that TLS – Prairie Region senior management regularly review the financial reports that Regional Corporate Services produces and that TLS management are actively involved in monitoring and administration their financial resources.

The audit team found that the TLS – Prairie Region communicates regularly with the Portfolio Business Management Section with respect to financial resource allocations to the TLS – Prairie Region. The TLS – Prairie Regional Director indicated that she is satisfied with the most recent level and timing of initial resource allocations received from the TLS Portfolio. Senior management also advised the audit team that they are continually well informed regarding their final budget allocations.

In our opinion, the financial administration of resources in the TLS – Prairie Region is appropriate.

Administrative assistants in the TLS – Prairie Region need the capability to view IFMS reports from their workstations.

A financial officer in Regional Corporate Services produces SAP reports on a monthly basis to provide TLS – Prairie Region senior management with a financial overview of the cost centres in the TLS – Prairie Region. Data in the reports are secured through system-generated security measures. Access to the reports is based on the file permissions granted.

Through our interviews and documentation review, we found that TLS – Prairie Region administrative assistants regularly review expenses that are processed through the cost centres. This review helps ensure the accuracy of accounts being used for expense allocation and validates expenditures that originate within the TLS – Prairie Section. However, administrative assistants cannot produce financial reports on demand and must rely on the monthly SAP reports produced by Regional Corporate Services. Since administrative assistants cannot access these reports from their workstations, they must either request the reports from Regional Corporate Services or conduct their reviews on a monthly basis. As a result, when senior management require information from these reports, administrative assistants are unable to access the information in an efficient and timely manner.

It is our opinion that administrative assistants within the TLS – Prairie Region should be given the capability to view IFMS reports from their workstations in order to provide the necessary timely information to TLS – Prairie Region management.

Recommendation and Management Response

3. It is recommended that the Regional Director, TLS – Prairie Region, in conjunction with the Information Management Branch, ensure that administrative assistants are given the capability to view IFMS reports from their workstations. (Low Risk)

Agreed. The Director will ensure that administrative assistants are given capability to review IFMS reports from their workstations, along with any necessary training. Completion Date: December 31, 2011.

3.9 Control and Protection of Key Assets

Control and protection of key assets within the TLS – Prairie Region isadequate.

The proper control and protection over key assets used in a business operation is an essential aspect of management activity. Adequate measures to help mitigate the chances of assets being damaged or stolen should be operating effectively and these measures should be reviewed regularly to help sustain their efficiency and relevancy.

We held consultations with key management and staff within the TLS – Prairie Region and the TLS Portfolio Office. We reviewed relevant documentation including procedural manuals related to the security of assets on the Department’s Intranet and performed a walkthrough of the iCase information management tool. (For details on iCase, see Information Systems section.)

The audit team visited the Edmonton and the Winnipeg offices, which are the largest Prairie Region offices. The audit team found that physical access to both Edmonton and Winnipeg office buildings is restricted. Individuals are permitted entry into the buildings only with a valid security building pass issued by the Department. All visitors without a building pass must be escorted by an authorized departmental resource.

The security of client information within both the Edmonton and Winnipeg offices is controlled and maintained via computer password protection and locked physical filing cabinets. Each computer workstation is only accessible if the user has a password that is in compliance with security standards. We found that access to iCase legal files is only granted to TLS personnel who are directly associated with the file. We were told that each TLS office is responsible for establishing its own protection procedures for physical assets. These procedures are established in accordance with the recommendations and guidance provided by the Department’s Accommodations Directorate.

Assets are acquired centrally and, upon initial receipt, the TLS – Prairie Region attaches an identification “tracking sticker” and records the pertinent information in a centralized inventory database. This is used to verify the assets in an employee’s possession on leaving the section.

In our opinion, the TLS – Prairie Region has appropriate processes and procedures in place to maintain proper control and protection over departmental assets.

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