NSW Legal Aid chief executive officer Alan Kirkland has been stood down.
A spokesman for NSW Attorney General Greg Smith confirmed Mr Kirkland's dismissal but did not say on what grounds.
''Legal Aid NSW’s principal function should be to provide people involved in criminal law and family law proceedings with access to affordable representation,'' the spokesman said.
''In future, the attorney general would like to see the commission focusing on supporting its clients and staff to ensure its functions are delivered appropriately.''
Mr Kirkland has been chief executive officer of NSW Legal Aid since July 2008 and was appointed by NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos under an annual performance agreement until July 2013.
He was previously executive director of the Australian Law Reform Commission from 2004 to 2008.
Before this he was a director of community access with the NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care and a director of the NSW Council of Social Service as well as a member on the boards of non-government organisations.
He was also a member of the Commonwealth Social Security Appeals Tribunal (Cth) and NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal.
He has been described previously by media as a long-standing ALP supporter.
He sought preselection as a Labor councillor to South Sydney Council in 1999.
He was also a co-convener of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.
A NSW Legal Aid spokeswoman did not comment but provided a statement of appreciation of Mr Kirkland's work.
She said Mr Kirkland declined to comment.
The statement by NSW Legal Aid said deputy chief executive officer Patricia O'Farrell and executive directors extended their "warm thanks and sincere appreciation to Mr Kirkland".
The board said it was ''shocked'' by Mr Kirkland's departure and NSW Legal Aid would continue to focus on delivering the highest quality services to our clients.
''Over the last three years we have been fortunate to be led by Alan Kirkland through a period of successful growth and change,'' the statement said.
The statement said legal services for disadvantaged people across NSW increased ''significantly'' during Mr Kirkland's time as CEO of legal services.
''Services to rural and regional clients, in particular, have expanded,'' it said.
''Under Alan's insightful and distinguished three year stewardship the annual operating budget for Legal Aid NSW increased by 17 per cent.
''Alan will be remembered for developing rapid, innovative legal responses to meet emerging legal needs. He also worked hard to bring all segments of the broader legal assistance sector together to deliver better services for clients.
''Alan is an exceptional manager who understood the business of Legal Aid NSW.
''Above all Alan is approachable, considered, transparent and efficient. We respect the role that he has played as CEO of Legal Aid NSW and he will be greatly missed.''
The statement said Mr Kirkland led legal aid commissions nationally in 2010 in negotiating a new national partnership agreement on legal assistance services with the Commonwealth which delivered a 20 per cent increase to the base Commonwealth funding of NSW Legal Aid NSW, the first funding increase in more than a decade.
It said Mr Kirkland's contributions to the negotiations were recognised this year when he was appointed chair of the National Legal Assistance Advisory Body on issues affecting the legal assistance system.
''He commissioned a detailed analysis of trends in NSW Legal Aid criminal law expenditure in order to better understand the cost drivers in crime and position us to meet increases in demand for our services.
''He worked effectively to implement the recommendations of the NSW Trial Efficiency Working Group aimed at providing experienced and skilled counsel to run complex legally aided trials.
''Alan is a passionate advocate for increased legal services for Aboriginal people and people in rural and regional areas of NSW.
''Alan argued strongly, within government, for bail reform and was committed to finding innovative ways to help our most marginalised clients, particularly children in out of home care and homeless people. He was heavily involved in efforts to reduce the unacceptably high rates of incarceration of young people in juvenile detention centres.''
As NSW Legal Assistance Forum chairman, he was ''committed to building a consensus amongst non government agencies to deliver the best possible services to people needing legal help''.