Last year Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) received over 185,000 phone calls and provided a lawyer to Albertans in nearly 52,000 cases. With so many people looking for help, the organization is always looking for better ways to serve Albertans, and especially how to assign lawyers faster and more effectively. Recently a project was launched that is showing early signs of doing just that.
With so many callers to LAA there are obviously an incredibly wide range of legal issues that people are looking for help with. To handle these calls a system was built where callers usually talk first with Legal Services Officers (LSOs). LSOs collect the information used to determine if the caller is eligible for LAA services.
In cases where the LSO determines the caller is eligible for LAA services, when the call ends the file is transferred to a specialized team who review the information and issue a ‘certificate’ to the most appropriate lawyer. The certificate explains the details of the legal matter, and if the lawyer accepts the certificate they contact the client and work starts.
A New, Faster Process
The new project eliminates the delay that can be caused by transferring the file to a different team. A small group of LSOs have now been trained so when they answer a call if they can see the issue is relatively straightforward and the caller clearly qualifies for service, the LSO will issue the certificate to a lawyer before that first call ends.
This means the caller tells their story once on their first phone call, and is told a lawyer has been asked to take their file before they hang up. Only a few LSOs are in the program so far, and the process is continuing to be tweaked and improved, but by eliminating this extra step clients are already getting lawyers more quickly. More LSOs will be added to the program soon, and the process will continue to be improved until all Legal Aid Alberta LSOs are able to provide this service.
A new Governance Agreement was recently negotiated that clearly explains the kinds of services LAA must provide. When the agreement was announced LAA President and CEO John Panusa said, “We are going to use this opportunity to look at every area of our organization and the way we operate and find every possible improvement.” Panusa is very pleased with the progress on this project so far, and added, “We’re committed to providing quality services to Albertans in the most effective ways possible, and I’m very pleased to have found improvements that are already making a difference.”