Proposed changes make legal aid supervised provider policy clearer

Proposed changes make legal aid supervised provider policy clearer

05 June 2014

The New Zealand Law Society says it considers proposed changes to the supervised provider policy will make the policy clearer than at present and will ensure that good quality legal aid services will be provided.

However, the Law Society believes there could be further improvements by allowing more flexibility and discretion to lead providers. This would ensure the policy reflects how file management in law practices operate and also to enable greater use of technology in their supervisory role.

In its comments to the Ministry of Justice on the proposed changes, the Law Society says one of the difficulties with the existing policy is the lack of a clear definition of "supervision" and "minor matters".

Supervision has been interpreted differently by different lead providers and this has sometimes caused confusion as to what tasks a supervised provider may undertake.

"It has resulted in either senior providers being reluctant to hire junior staff because the restrictions on supervised providers appear too onerous, or senior providers undertaking tasks that would be better left to a supervised provider so they can gain practical experience."

The existing policy also anticipates that the lead provider works primarily on the file and merely delegates tasks to the supervised provider. This creates a tension between complying with the policy, the traditional file management in a law practice, client expectations, and enabling supervised providers to gain necessary skills.

The Law Society suggests that the new policy's use of "suitably qualified lawyer" needs clarification. It says it is unclear whether this means another provider with lead provider status, or whether that practitioner could be a suitably qualified senior lawyer who does not hold a legal aid contract or legal aid provider status.

"The policy should be amended to make it clear that 'suitably qualified lawyer' means a suitably qualified lawyer with the appropriate legal aid approvals," it says.

"The policy should also advise that where a suitably qualified approved provider is not available, an urgent limited approval may be available."