Friday, July 19th, 2013

Paralegals in Canada, From Province to Province

Paralegal Program

The legal responsibilities of a paralegal vary from province to province.

Paralegal programs in colleges across Canada continue to experience a steady rise in student enrolment. However, there’s still confusion about what a Paralegal can and cannot do from province to province. If you’re considering a career as a paralegal, read on to see how responsibilities and regulation vary from province to province, what your duties would be and where you can get a diploma from a recognized, respected post-secondary institution.

Clerical Duties vs. Legal Responsibilities

Regardless of the province in which they work, paralegals generally have the same clerical duties. These usually consist of preparing claims, pre-interviewing witnesses, preparing documents for litigation (pleadings, complaints, summons), and doing research and gathering and organizing necessary data for trials.

The legal responsibilities of a paralegal vary from province to province. However, with the exception of Ontario, paralegals are not regulated.

This means two things:

  • Paralegals don’t require a specific level of education, training or certification to work as paralegals in a law office;
  • There is no governing body overseeing the work and conduct of paralegals, which in turn means that it is the paralegal’s supervising lawyer who will take any blame for misconduct or negligence on the part of paralegals in their employ.

The lack of regulation and oversight is what most hampers the expansion of paralegal services outside of Ontario. Supervising lawyers don’t want to be responsible – and liable! – for errors the paralegal might make, so the tasks given to paralegals are usually restricted to whatever the supervising lawyer are confident their paralegal can handle. This means that even very promising and knowledgeable paralegals may not get a chance to take on more responsibilities – not because they’re not capable, but because their supervising lawyers don’t want to risk their and their firm’s reputations in the event that complaints are brought against the paralegals in their employ.

Although a specific education or certification is not required to become a paralegal outside of Ontario, it is extremely difficult to find employment as a paralegal without a diploma from a recognized college. If you’re interested in becoming a paralegal, either as a lifelong career or as a stepping stone towards another eventual career in law, getting a college diploma is an absolute must.

Paralegal Associations and Code of Ethics

Though they’re unregulated, paralegals can become members of reputable associations that, while not absolving governing lawyers of responsibility, do expect paralegals adhere a code of ethics remain in good standing. Membership in a paralegal association lets lawyers know that you’re serious about your career and can influence not only the responsibilities you’re given but also the salary you receive.

British Columbia, Albert and Ontario have provincial associations they can join, while they paralegals outside of these provinces can also become members of either the Paralegal Society of Canada (PSC) or the Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP). Both PSC and CAP host seminars, discussion groups and conventions that give members an opportunity to network, learn more about specific areas of law and help establish links between the paralegal profession and provincial bar associations.

In B.C., the British Columbia Paralegal Association (BCPA) provides educational opportunities for its members, advising paralegal education programs about coursework and offering social opportunities to its members. They also offer scholarships and conduct surveys that help to promote the paralegal profession in the province.

In Alberta, the Alberta Association of Professional Paralegals (AAPP) offers membership to paralegals who have graduated with a diploma or certificate from a recognized post-secondary institution, or those who have the equivalent in job experience.

In Ontario, where paralegals have a wider range of independent legal duties, paralegals can become members of the Paralegal Society of Ontario (PSO), which provides insurance and evolving education about provincial regulations and Law Society of Upper Canada requirements.

Paralegals in Ontario

Paralegals in Ontario have a wider range of responsibilities than do their counterparts in the other provinces. They can independently practice in approved areas of the law — for example, representing clients in provincial matters, immigration, landlord & tenant disputes, labour law, small claims court and other criminal matters.

The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) has the authority to regulate legal services provided by independent paralegals, and many college diploma programs are accredited by the LSUC. Anyone wishing to become a licensed paralegal must apply through a legal services program approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

With their increased independence comes greater responsibility. Because they are licensed by the LSUC, paralegals in Ontario must follow the Society’s rules of conduct. As such, they are responsible for their own behaviour and can have their licenses revoked, which means having to close down their professional business and return client trust funds and files.

British Columbia’s Paralegal Pilot Project

A pilot project was launched in B.C. in January 2013 to look into allowing paralegals to make certain appearances in family court, with the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) hoping to expand the role of paralegals in order to make legal services more affordable. At present, the pilot project is limited to family law and non-contentious procedural applications.

“Traditionally, paralegals were not permitted to give legal advice, so while the paralegal may have done much of the background work, it was the lawyer who finalized and gave the legal advice. That process can drive up costs,” says Doug Munro, a policy lawyer with the LSBC.

“The Law Society’s Benchers are developing ways to improve the public’s access to more affordable legal services,” continues Munro. “Expanding the range of services paralegals can provide is one way of accomplishing this.”

Until now, paralegals in B.C. have not been permitted to appear in court on behalf of clients. Under the two-year pilot project, designated paralegals have the right of appearance, subject to certain conditions, including in the Cariboo/Northeast District and Surrey in Provincial Court, and Vancouver, New Westminster and Kamloops in Supreme Court.

If successful, the pilot project could lead to full regulation and considerably more legal responsibilities for paralegals in British Columbia.

Paralegal Diploma Programs in Canada

No matter which province you live in – whether paralegals are regulated or not – the most important first step is getting a diploma from a recognized college. Here are some of the colleges that currently offer paralegal diploma programs, including those in Ontario who are accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Linda Galeazzi
Author: Linda Galeazzi
Linda Galeazzi has been an online writer and proof reader for several years.
Post a comment
  1. Lyndsay Says:

    Actually, since 2007 Paralegals have been governed by the Law Society of Upper Canada. The same regulating body that lawyers have. We are required to be licensed and hold insurance. Granted, we can work under a lawyer without insurance… However, if a paralegal works as an advocate in court they have to have both of those things.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    This is a great idea for an article, but I have not idea where some of the information about Ontario paralegals may have come from.

    For example, “Paralegal Society of Ontario (PSO) provides insurance and evolving education about provincial regulations and Law Society of Upper Canada requirements.”

    This is simply untrue. Neither does any of the several Ontario paralegal associations oversee the ethical behaviour of its members, as suggested.

    Ontario paralegals are governed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, exclusively.

    We purchase professional insurance independently, from any number of vendors. Membership in any association has no effect or reflection on professional standing, or on Continuing Professional Development opportunities, mentoring, networking, and so on.

    Law Associations in Ontario are increasingly open to paralegal members who want to belong to a legal professional association. The Law Society offers mentoring and coaching, business information, a referral service, updates about regulations and legislation that affect paralegal advocates, professional development and special events for paralegals.

    Meanwhile, Ontario’s 6,000 or so paralegals are, for the most part, advocating for ourselves and contributing individually to our profession in many positive ways.

    Legal information providers have been suggesting this link, to an innovative and reliable resource for all things paralegal:

    Thank you.

  3. Sianna Says:

    Thank you for the informative article. I was wondering if you can elaborate/update on the statement: “it is extremely difficult to find employment as a paralegal without a diploma from a recognized college.”

    Does that by chance include certificates? I am looking into continuing my education and becoming a paralegal, and the two main colleges I was interested in (George Brown and Centennial College) offer certificate programs only. The programs are, financially, significantly more affordable, and shorter, than the diploma programs other colleges offer. When I spoke to a student adviser she said the type of accreditation isn’t very important as long as you gain the skills to pass LSUC’s licensing exam. I was wondering if anyone has a take on this from experience. If the diploma is important, I believe it will benefit readers if anyone could maybe mention preferred schools, since there is a lot of options out there, but it seems a little unclear as to what direction to take – certificate program, diploma in a public college, accelerated diploma in a private college, etc.
    Thank you for your time.

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