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Canada Alberta Justice to lay off 90 civil lawyers, outsource more legal work, to meet budget cuts

21:15  28 november  2019
21:15  28 november  2019 Source:   cbc.ca

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Alberta Justice is preparing to lay off 90 civil-law lawyers as its legal services division struggles to absorb a $20-million budget cut, an internal memo obtained by CBC News shows.

The document also reveals government departments will be "outsourcing considerably more legal work than they are now."

Assistant deputy minister Tom Rothwell sent the memo to civil lawyers Wednesday.

In it, he said the legal services division tried to take a more "incremental" and methodical approach to implementing cuts, but that was rejected by the government.

Rothwell said in the memo that division wanted to focus on "assessing what legal services would be cut or reduced, and using that analysis to determine where downsizing should be implemented," as well as "creating a proposal that would see the division reduce our budget by about $10 million at the end of three years" — half the targeted reduction.

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"We recently received confirmation that any proposal must meet the full $20-million reduction, as opposed to an incremental approach," Rothwell wrote.

"Creative ideas to reduce costs, such as having lawyers move to other departments and then being seconded back to the division, or having lawyers work less hours at reduced salaries, etc. will not allow us to meet the budget targets and do not reduce the size and cost of the public sector," the memo says.

Rothwell said the cuts will impact legal services the Justice lawyers provide to all government departments, as legal teams shrink and focus on government work deemed a priority.

"Although we will continue to seek to mitigate the impact of the budget reduction, at this point in time, in order to meet our 2022/23 budget target, the division must provide working notice to about 90 lawyers in January 2020."

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Response from Justice

Another impact of the cuts, the memo states, is that legal departments "will be outsourcing considerably more legal work than they are now."

But a draft white paper about the proposed budget cuts, created for review and discussion within the Legal Services division, warned that outsourcing legal work can often be more expensive than having in-house lawyers perform the work. The draft was obtained by CBC News.

"Since many legal risks can go undetected by the clients, or may not be assessed in terms of magnitude or timing of risk, preventative law aspects in many cases cannot be outsourced," the white paper states.

"By the time an issue is large enough to prepare to send to outside counsel, much of the damage may well have been done," it continues. "With a reduced in-house presence, unnoticed legal issues could grow in risk as limitations pass and as contracts and commitments to third parties may be entered into without first obtaining legal advice."

The white paper also said "these legal risks are often associated with financial consequences, which early detection and intervention can help avoid. Legal Services performs these preventative law practices in many cases on a regular basis in the normal course of their work, as it is in the day-to-day review that problematic issues are found."

If you have any information for this story, or information for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca

Follow us on Twitter: @charlesrusnell @jennierussell

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