Committed to high-quality legal aid services

Committed to high-quality legal aid services

Friday, 27 January 2017

It’s often said that in any organisation it takes many people working behind the scenes to deliver a quality service, and that description couldn’t be more apt for Quality Auditor Susan Thomas’ role at Victoria Legal Aid.

‘It’s always been important for me to work for an organisation where the corporate values and my personal values are aligned, and that’s certainly the case at Victoria Legal Aid where the values of Fairness, Care and Courage are embraced through all levels of the organisation,’ said Susan.

Quality Auditor Susan Thomas
Quality Auditor Susan Thomas

In her role as quality auditor, Susan is part of a small team whose key focus is to support panel practitioners in meeting Victoria Legal Aid’s practice standards through feedback and training.

As well as reviewing panel practitioner files, the role also provides the opportunity to meet with panel practitioners, help strengthen our partnership with them and recognise high-quality work conducted by private practitioners on behalf of Victoria Legal Aid.

While Susan acknowledges her role as quality auditor doesn’t see her working at the coalface and representing clients in court, she believes it’s no less important in delivering services.

‘My role involves providing detailed written feedback to practitioners and making recommendations about process improvements to enable them to provide high quality legal services to their clients.

‘Where required, I meet with practitioners to implement an action plan to address areas for improvement. I also work closely with other stakeholders within the organisation, including our Assignments or Panels teams, to ensure that we are taking a consistent approach to assessing and improving quality.

‘As a quality auditor, you are required to place yourself in the shoes of a vulnerable client and ask hard questions including, ‘Would they have been able to understand this letter from their lawyer?’, ‘Would they have understood what the likely outcome of mediation would be?’ and ‘Would they have known what their appeal rights are?’

‘Similarly, a quality auditor needs to see the situation from the practitioner’s side and ask searching questions including, ‘Why has Victoria Legal Aid informed me my file isn’t up to scratch, when I’ve achieved a great outcome for the client?’, ‘How can I improve my practice when I’m a busy sole practitioner?’ and ‘Why does Victoria Legal Aid impose so many obligations on me?’

‘I am required to be independent and objective in my assessment of a file, and to deliver feedback in a factual and non-emotive way. However, this objectivity cannot come at the expense of empathy.’

Susan says the role provides plenty of people interaction and challenges.

‘Practitioners take pride in providing high quality legal services to their clients and might be concerned that we will take a different view of their work.

‘On occasion, I may find myself needing to have difficult conversations with practitioners when a quality audit reveals opportunities for improvement.

‘It can also sometimes be a challenge to persuade practitioners that the quality audit process is not intended to be punitive. Rather, it is designed to ensure that our client’s needs for appropriate legal services are being met, and to provide an opportunity for the practitioner to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses in their case-handling – something that is hard to do when you have a high volume of files or are a busy sole practitioner.'

Despite the challenges, Susan enjoys many aspects of her role.

‘I appreciate having the time to thoroughly review a file, being able to observe a variety of case-handling techniques, providing detailed written feedback and working autonomously.

‘Work-life balance is also important to me. It's embraced in this role.’

‘I love the fact that I usually have a clear idea about what my day is going to look like, I generally know what work I have to get through, and I can be fairly confident that I’ll be able to finish my work day at my scheduled finish time, which is a rare luxury in this profession.

‘This provides the opportunity to spend time on all the other things that are important to being a healthy, happy person, including cooking dinner, connecting with friends and family or pursuing other interests.

‘Having said that, priorities can change and I still need to be adaptable when things occasionally come up unexpectedly.’

Susan acknowledges the quality auditor position is unlike a trial lawyer role. She believes the role has many redeeming qualities that would appeal to lawyers seeking intellectually satisfying work that helps other lawyers improve their practices.

‘The quality auditor role has a lot to offer someone who has an enthusiasm for the law and a genuine concern that clients receive high quality services.’

Find out more and apply for the position

Find out more and apply for the quality auditor role at Victoria Legal Aid at our Careers Board.