Questions & Answers
This project is about planning to replace the existing GTA community legal clinics system with fewer, larger, clinics. The reason for this is to deliver more and better services to our clients. Improvements to our services are needed and clinics need to be larger organizations to accomplish the necessary changes in service delivery.
This process arises from the report of Public Interest, consultants for the East Toronto clinics. The principles in this report are applicable beyond the context of East Toronto and those clinics proposed that this should be a GTA-wide project. The GTA Clinic Managers Group agreed and the GTA Transformation Project began.
The first step taken was the establishment of the “Working Group,” comprised of executive directors from eight clinics who volunteered to head up the project. The Working Group essentially acts as an executive for a Steering Committee to be comprised of representatives of all participating clinics.
The Working Group applied to the Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) Innovations Fund and has been given funding for this project. We expect to retain consultants to assist with the process, including analysis of demographic data and doing some community needs assessment.
This is an opportunity to ask some important questions about our current community legal clinic system. lf there were no existing community legal clinics, what would be the best way to deliver clinic law services in the GTA? What is the optimum size for a community legal clinic? Based on where clients are located, where should catchment area boundaries be?
Together we will build a new and better system for delivering a full range of poverty law services in the GTA, one that meets client and community needs, and seeks the best (the most effective and efficient) means of delivering clinic law services. All clinics will be taking an equal risk of change. The more clinics that participate, the better our final report will be.
The context for this project is that change is already happening — LAO has commenced delivering poverty law services outside of clinics and as of April 2014 LAO may decide to impose changes on clinics. Changing the way that we deliver services is the best thing for our clients. However, if we do not make changes ourselves in a timely manner, changes may be imposed on us: that might not be best for our clients.
The new Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO) Strategic Plan sees legal clinics working together as a system. This is an opportunity to consider the best interests of low income residents throughout the GTA to enhance our effectiveness and our sustainability. Clinic boards do have the mandate to conclude that the best thing for the communities they currently serve is to become part of a larger clinic. This is part of the leadership role of a board of directors.
This process is self-mandated and has no intrinsic authority, so the process has been designed to keep people informed and engaged, with feedback throughout. The Working Group will report to the Steering Committee and every clinic which signs the MOU will have a representative on the Steering Committee. This Project does not have the authority to compel any clinic to do anything. In the end, there will be a report with recommendations and the question will be: what will your clinic do with the report?
The MOU asks for a commitment to participate in a process of developing recommendations on the number of clinics for the GTA, the recommended catchment areas, resource needs for the new clinics and the next steps concerning the implementation process. The Steering Committee will work to achieve consensus on these issues.
Administrative savings will be a concern and there will be work to address them, but the most important factor is improvement to client services. The report will not address operational issues of the proposed new clinics: the new clinics will need to sort out their own operational terms in the implementation phase.
There is no commitment beyond participating in the process of preparing this report. Signing the MOU is not an endorsement of the report’s recommendations as we do not yet know what those recommendations will be.
That is possible. We cannot know what LAO will do. We are proceeding with this project because it is the best thing for our clients. As well, engaging in transformative change ourselves puts clinics in a better position to resist changes which will harm our clients. lf there are cuts, the new, larger clinics will be better able to deal with them. Small clinics can make significant cuts only by reducing staff.
It is likely that some people will be doing different work than they currently do. One of the goals of this project is to improve upon and make client services more accessible; cutting resources would undermine that goal. We will make our best efforts to ensure that our resources are put back into client services. One of the issues this project will study will be the options for existing staff to transition into the new clinics.
Additional funding seems unlikely in the days of cut-backs and LAO is explicitly asking clinics to make cuts. However, clinics have and will continue to ask for more money — but we still need to transform how we work. Most funders, including LAO, want to see transformation and greater efficiency and maximum use of funds even if they are willing to provide additional funds (as with LAO’s Innovations Fund). Community legal clinics want to make sure we deliver the maximum quality and amount of services for whatever funding we have.
The communities we serve have changed over time. They are no longer small, homogeneous neighbourhoods and we need to make clinics relevant to the current communities. We anticipate that utilization of access points will ensure close community connections. Clinics will continue to do public legal education and community development and we must maintain our existing community connections. Legal clinics will still be community based — they will just be larger and will serve larger communities.
Ultimately, operational issues will need to be addressed by the new clinics, but not through this process. However, there are many very helpful suggestions in the Public Interest report on how clinics can deliver services differently. We anticipate that the new clinics will be reaching out to their clients through relationships with other agencies. The development and use of multiple access points will mean clients will not need to travel further than they do now. And it will mean more equitable access for all clients.
When Boards endorse the MOU, they are also asked to designate a representative to the Steering Committee. This can be anyone associated with their clinic, but should be someone who is able to attend all the meetings and be prepared to collect and provide feedback between the clinic and the Steering Committee as the process evolves.
Each legal clinic should think about developing a process for reviewing the work coming out of the Steering Committee, providing feedback on it and, ultimately, responding to the recommendations in the report. There should be a formalized process at each clinic for board and staff to review proposals and ensure the channelling of information to and from each clinic and the Steering Committee.
Both the ACLCO and LAO are aware of the process and will be kept up to date with the process steps, as they occur. LAO is funding the first stage of this project. The ACLCO’s strategic plan action items identifies action on the problem of distribution of resources in the system as a priority.
The Working Group will ensure the day to day work of developing and getting out requests for proposals and selecting and supervising the consultants is done. The Working Group will be directed by the decisions of the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee will have a representative from every clinic participating to create a feedback loop between clinics and the process, and ensure that all clinics are involved in decision making during the process.
The MOU has been distributed to all 17 general service, geographically based, GTA Clinics. Boards in those clinics are considering their participation and have been asked to indicate their decision on the MOU as soon as possible. We are all aware that the end of March 2014 is an important benchmark in the transformation process, so there is an urgency to move forward with the work. Positive responses to the MOU are evidence that clinics are engaged and discussing these issues in their own staffs and Boards, and are committed to feedback and participation in the process and ultimately considering the recommendations in a serious way.