Legal Aid Ontario opens access to IT systems

Legal Aid Ontario is planning an IT upgrade that may offer self-service capabilities to the lawyers who bill the organization as well as the clients who depend on its services.

The provincially-funded organization Monday

said it has signed a contract with Cedar Enterprise Solutions Inc. to build an integrated data collection system based on customer relationship management tools from PeopleSoft. The implementation will be completed by fall of 2004.

Legal Aid Ontario, which provided services to almost one million low-income clients last year, has 52 offices that use a home-grown system called SES. Data from SES is transferred to an AS/400 server that manages the collection of legal account information. The group also has separate systems for financial data and human resources.

Maureen Hastings, a project manager with Legal Aid Ontario, said few of these systems work very well together. Although some integration problems have been solved through some one-off projects, the Cedar contract represents a more over-arching attempt to improve customer service, she said.

“”We’re still stuck with a situation where if a client goes into the Brampton office, say, to apply and they’ve applied before at the Oshawa office, we can’t electronically download into a system and begin again,”” she said. “”We can’t go in and take the information we already have. We know that the person’s been in Oshawa. We know what they’re file is about. But we can’t actually collect the data from that and transfer to the Brampton system.””

With the new system, Legal Aid hopes to offer applicants a user ID that would allow them to check the status of their application through the organization’s portal. Lawyers would also be given user IDs where they can check the status of their bill. “”Right now the only way they can do that is to call us,”” she said.

Dave North, a lawyer who bills Legal Aid at Fedorson/Shoniker in Toronto, welcomed the idea. “”I think that’s something I would use,”” he said. “”Having said that, generally speaking when I have a question about a file or an account, it doesn’t take me too long just by using the telephone.””

Hastings said the system will be designed not merely to improve the process for lawyers and clients but Legal Aid Ontario’s own users, who have to manually print off and handle account information when lawyers bill for their services. Electronic receipts are another goal, she said.

“”The plan for this was always that this is not a staff cutting exercise,”” she said. “”Some of what we do now we won’t have to do . . . we expect that jobs are simply going to be more analytical.””

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