The review of the Crown Law Office released this week shows there are some deep divisions with the Office, with “multiple cultures” and “tribalism”.
The report from the State Services Commission shows the issues within the 800-lawyer office are considerable and will require what the report says is a need to deliver its services in a “more collaborative way” so that the Crown gets the best value from the office.
At a time when problems are often more ‘wicked’, the complexity of the role performed by Crown Law has produced quality work from the organisation, the SSC reviewers said, but the Office needs to clarify and alter its structure in order to meet the whole-of-government demands made of it.
The report refers to the 2016 PIF self-review, which raised some of the same “challenging messages” that needed to be confronted by the office, as stated by office’s leadership team lead by Solicitor General Una Jagose.
It follows previous reviews of the Office, including the ‘Statement of Intent’ 2014-2017 released when Michael Heron QC was Solicitor General and following three external reviews of Crown Law.
The past four years have seen significant changes within Crown Law, including in its management and to better integrate its services within government.
The role of Solicitor General Una Jagose has been commended in the report, with the reviewers noting “Una’s communication and visibility is great. She is leading culture from the front and making people feel valued.”
However challenges remain, including the culture and office ‘model’ and the Solicitor General has a long way to go towards achieving the changes needed –
Notwithstanding the strong leadership of the Solicitor-General and her modelling of the culture she values, the organisation is a long way from being there.
There are multiple cultures in the organisation that are underpinned by hierarchical behaviours and tribalism. There are deep divides between corporate staff and legal staff.
There are still strong views about the restructure of more than four years ago, which stops people unhooking from the past. Variously people in the organisation do not feel that their work, and hence their contribution to the success of Crown Law, is valued by others.
The report points to the “unacceptable divide” between the corporate and the legal sides of the office.
There is, the reviewers say, ‘divisive behaviours’ and a hierarchical structure within the Office that needs to change in order for it to properly deliver its services.
The funding model also needs to change. The current funding model used is unhelpful when there are important risk management and other issues that need to be dealt with, but the meter is ticking.
Also, the cost recovery model creates artificial barriers as to how we allocate resources or how deeply we become involved in matters. We need better systems for determining our priority effort. …supported by the right behaviours, values and syst
The current Crown Law culture, says the report, supports “a siloed and strongly hierarchical construct”, which is based on the srtructure of a traditional law firm and is often unsuited to the work required of the Office.
This culture controls the modus operandus within the organisation and varies between the internal structural silos.
Crown Law require better networking across government generally, the review says, as well as developing a far more open approach towards career development.
Crown Law presently relies on the skills, abilities and preparedness of individual employees without strong frameworks or systems to back them up. Indeed, if we were only allowed to say one word to the organisation to drive the change it needs to make to support its value-add aspirations that word would be “systems”.
Developing good systems will enhance the whole ‘legal ecosystem’, the report says. It will also mitigate risk and provide better value service to the government client base and step up to its ‘leadership opportunity’ provided.
Moving practice to modern frame, IT-based rather than paper-based, systems is essential. There is an opportunity here for Crown Law to provide Public Service leadership.
No Easy Journey
The report says that the journey to be embarked upon by Crown Law will not be an easy one, but it is necessary and could provide public service leadership.
It would also ensure that Crown Law integrates better within the public prosecutions and Government Legal Network and elsewhere, as well as stepping in to provide needed assistance before ‘things go awry’.
Increasingly Complex Roles
The need for Crown Law to provide increasingly complex advice to government clients is one that has also brought into focus the need to alter its structure and performance.
The report looked at tendering as an example, noting that the Office is increasingly required to provide advice on such matters, but confusion arises as to whether the Office is providing advice to its ‘client’ or to the Crown as a whole.
To manage this confusion Crown Law needs to communicate openly with its ‘clients’ and explicit about the master it is serving (the client or the wider Crown interest). There is a particular leadership role for the Solicitor-General here in balancing the interests of government as a whole against those of individual departments.
It is the culture change that the review notes is the main issue – noting in summary –
We cannot emphasise enough how demanding a shift to a more inclusive culture setting, with the attendant behaviour and values changes, is going to be. To shift the culture of any organisation is a hard ask but it is even more demanding in an organisation containing strong professionally-motivated staff. Other examples, by way of comparison, include scientists in research organisations, academics in universities and nurses and doctors in hospitals.
There is much work to do, the report says, in order to build a culture of continuous improvement.