Compliance review methodology
Compliance review methodology
Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) checks a sufficiently representative sample of the total case files held by the lawyers whom it may review to ensure that:
- the lawyers comply with VLA’s requirements for record-keeping and invoicing
- the case files support VLA’s decisions to make a grant of legal assistance.
The reviews are carried out by compliance officers in VLA's Legal Practice.
Details of the compliance reviews are available in the Section 29A panel practitioner manual and are also summarised below.
When does VLA review lawyers’ case files?
Compliance officers usually check a sample of case files from each relevant law firm and from each relevant in-house practice area at quarterly intervals. Compliance officers may check additional files from time to time.
Selecting case files for review
At the start of each financial year, a recommended sampling plan is developed for VLA to follow as far as practicable.
The sampling plan does not identify the actual files VLA should check. Rather, it is a table which recommends how many files from each law firm or VLA practice area VLA should check.
The sampling plan makes allowance for several levels of non-compliance. The compliance officers select the number of files to be checked based on the compliance history of each firm and of the VLA practice areas. The better the compliance rate the lower the number of files to be checked. The higher the non-compliance rate, the more files to be checked.
Depending on the past performance of particular firms or VLA in-house practice, and reports detailing anomalies and historical trends and exceptions in the types of grants of assistance provided, the compliance officers may either:
- select files randomly (for example, every third finalised file from a firm)
- target particular files.
Wherever possible, the files which the compliance officers check will be those which the lawyers have finalised and closed. If this is not possible, the files checked will be those in which a particular stage of a matter has been completed, even if some other aspects of the case are continuing.
Advance notice of compliance reviews
The compliance officers will usually give the law firm or the VLA practice area reasonable written notice of the files they will check. In practice, they usually give seven days’ written notice. However, VLA reserves the right to carry out a compliance review without giving any notice.
Location of reviews
VLA may check lawyers’ case files at VLA or at the firm’s offices. Where practicable and appropriate, compliance officers plan to visit each law firm and each VLA in-house practice area and regional office at least once during a calendar year, after giving the usual seven days’ notice. Other reviews will take place at VLA’s head office.
If a compliance officer intends to check a law firm’s files at VLA, then, when they write to the firm telling them of the files to be checked, they will also request that those files be sent to VLA to arrive on a certain date.
If a compliance officer intends to check the files from one of VLA’s practice areas at VLA’s head office, then the practice area must transfer the selected files to Legal Practice at head office to arrive on the required date.
File checking process
When the compliance officer checks the selected case files they look to see if the lawyer has complied with all VLA’s requirements about:
- the information and documents necessary to prove an assisted person’s means
- the information and documents necessary to prove the merits of a matter
- the information and documents necessary to establish the type of matter which was assisted
- the assessment of guidelines
- fees, professional costs and disbursements etc, as itemised and proven in invoices and in-house bills
- proof of matter, including appearances.
The compliance officer checks that the required paperwork is present on the file and that it is sufficient to support VLA’s decision to make a grant of legal assistance and justifies all costs paid by VLA.
If the records in a case file do not comply with VLA’s requirements
In checking a case file, the compliance officer may identify that:
- necessary information or documentation is missing from a case file
- the information or documentation provided in the file is insufficient
- the lawyer’s recommendation has not been made in accordance with VLA’s guidelines
- the lawyer is seeking payments for matters not covered by the grant of legal assistance
- the lawyer has failed to comply with VLA’s requirements in some other way.
The compliance officer may then give one of several compliance notices to the lawyer.
Record-keeping by VLA
A compliance officer maintains a compliance file for each firm and for each VLA practice area for each financial year. They will keep a records of files requested for compliance checks, outcome of the checks, copies of the notices and all correspondence.
At the end of each financial year, the compliance file for each firm and practice area is closed and archived.