by Sonya Sherman, Data4Good


Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS) opened their doors in 1970 in Redfern as the first Aboriginal Legal Service in Australia and the first free legal assistance service in Australia. Today, the ALS is made up of over 230 staff across 24 offices throughout NSW and ACT.

ALS is a proud Aboriginal community-controlled organisation, with its limited resources dedicated to providing legal services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, children and men including representation, advice, referrals and other discrete assistance in criminal law, children’s care and protections law and family law. They also support the development of wraparound programs and undertake broader policy and law reform work.

The Challenge

Legal work generates large quantities of information. High quality data and reliable records are essential. Many services involve personal information, information about children, and other sensitive content. Records of significant cases may need to be kept forever.

ALS wanted to ensure their records could be easily accessed when needed, while maintaining privacy and security controls. They also wanted to keep files in good environmental conditions and maintain a safe working environment for office staff.

Over the years, the volume of files had started to become unmanageable. Storage space and costs were becoming a challenge – so it was time to identify some files for disposal.

The Approach

The Data4Good team worked with experts at ALS to understand the business activities and types of records being created. We identified the Functional Retention and Disposal Authority FA272, published by the State Archives and Records Authority of NSW. This document establishes minimum retention periods for records about legal assistance, advice and representation services. It applies to agencies such as Legal Aid NSW, and was a useful reference for the work we did on this project.

We developed a schedule, which states how long ALS records, files and data must be kept (“retention”) and what must happen to them at the end of that time (“disposal”). Staff across the offices will be able to identify files for destruction; and files that require long-term archiving.

The Data4Good team also noted a shift to more digital work practices at ALS, storing records in different systems and non-physical formats. ALS is using the National Legal Assistance Data Standards Manual for data quality management. The manual provides a standard way to describe ALS data and information. We mapped the retention and disposal requirements to the standard categories and service types, so they can be applied to digital records too.

The Outcome

The ALS now has clear policy for records retention and disposal, informed by the relevant professional standards and legislation. This will enable ALS to implement a consistent approach to data and information management, reduce costs, minimise risks, and continue to improve the legal services provided to the Aboriginal community.

A big thank you to Sonya Sherman for volunteering her expertise and time, and to ALS’ Trent Shepherd and Suzanne Slegers for their guidance and allowing Data4Good to be involved.

– the Data4Good team

The Impact

With the assistance of the subject matter experts and project managers at Data4Good, the ALS now has a records retention guide that will form part of the Standard Operating Procedure of the legal practice. The adoption of the manual will streamline our records management across our offices. Ensuring we meet our statutory requirements, is critical to any legal practice and at the same time allowing us to offset storage cost so we can further refine our practice to meet the legal and social needs of our clients.

– Trent Shepherd, Data Manager, ALS (NSW/ACT) Ltd.


About the Author

Sonya Sherman | LinkedIn
Data & info strategist | Connection maker

Sonya makes connections between concepts and ideas, people and places, teams and industries. Her passion is helping people create, find, use and share information. Sonya drives open government and digital transformation to use and protect information for public value. An experienced leader and senior subject matter expert in data and information governance, she has developed public policy and submissions, advised senior executives and Ministers, and provided leadership and advocacy through not-for-profit and industry bodies.