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April 2019
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Triage principles in legal assistance


Christine Coumarelos and Hugh M. McDonald, April 2019  

Triage provides a means for prioritising clients and matching them appropriately with available legal assistance services. The 2009 Access to Justice Taskforce recognised triage as fundamental to helping people find appropriate pathways through the justice system. It's important to remember that triage can be used at different service points and at successive points of contact.
This paper was developed to support Legal Aid NSW undertake a review of their client intake and triage processes. It provides a conceptual basis to support the development of a systematic approach to triage to ensure clients are efficiently and effectively directed to the type and level of legal service appropriate to their legal needs and capability.

Developing a triage framework sets out a number of key criteria that are relevant to developing a suitable triage model that identifies priority clients for assistance:
  • intake pathway – e.g. mode and location of service
  • client characteristics – e.g. client disadvantage and client capability
  • legal problem characteristics – e.g. type, severity and urgency of problem
  • available assistance options – from the intake service, from other legal assistance services, or from other human services
  • likely outcomes of assistance – for the client in the short-term and longer-term, and possibly also for the dispute resolution and justice system.
The paper features a matrix developed by the Foundation that maps triage practice by type of entry point into the legal service. The matrix provides a template for identifying actual triage practices and whether they are consistent with the goals of the legal service.
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