Ontario paralegals who earn a “specialized licence in family law” should provide limited legal services in family matters. This is in the best interests of the public. So says Justice Annemarie Bonkalo, in a long-awaited report.
Released March 6, the Family Legal Services Review‘s 21 recommendations mark the first step towards opening up the Paralegal Scope of Practice in Ontario. That scope of limited services has not changed in the 10 years since paralegal licensing became law.
Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada are gathering public feedback online until May 15, 2017. Plans are to release an action plan by fall 2017. It could lead to creating a special licence that would allow paralegals to provide certain types of family legal services, such as custody and divorces that do not involve property.
~ Paralegal Elaine Page
“We know that navigating the family justice system can be difficult and confusing – especially when you don’t have access to qualified legal help,” Minister of the Attorney General Naqvi said. “I am committed to working with our partners in the justice sector and the federal government to help families get the help they need.”
Justice Bonkalo consulted with dozens of groups and individuals from across the legal community, as well as those representing the interests of families in the justice system.
Senior paralegal Elaine Page was the only paralegal invited to the Review advisory committee. She points out that legal licensing is about serving and protecting the public. The Bonkalo Report is grounded in that. “These recommendations are based on the needs of the people of Ontario. It is not about paralegals, per se. It is about the fact that there are people who have a desperate need for access to justice.”
Page credits paralegal professionals who “get out there and be awesome every day,” in courthouses and hearing rooms, with making a wider scope at all possible. “We didn’t just open the door a crack,” she said. “We kicked it in.”
Calls for expanded paralegal practice are typically followed by acrimony from some lawyers and law groups. The Bonkalo Report recognizes this.
The Report relates examples of paralegal advocacy competence in tribunals, and during a Legal Aid Ontario pilot project. Page suggests that continued recognition of paralegals providing excellent advocacy to the public will be the driving factor behind any expanded scope.
Law Society Treasurer Paul Schabas called the report an “important reminder that the family justice system in Ontario needs to evolve to ensure the public has timely access and competent representation.”
Page has worked as a paralegal for 25 years, operating Page Paralegal and PREP Network. A previous recipient of the Law Society’s Distinguished Paralegal Award, she has collaborated with lawyers on projects that included updating the Rules of the Small Claims Court.
Page said the Review discussions were “thoughtful and meaningful, and a chance to better inform members of the bar about the paralegal scope of practice.” Where lawyers and the judiciary work directly with paralegals, they tend to see paralegals as competent, dedicated professionals, Page said. “As a community, we paralegals could do a better job of letting lawyers know our capabilities. A lawyer who practises in family law wouldn’t necessarily know that this is who we are and what we can do.”
Justice Bonkalo’s report also recommends greater use of unbundled services and coaching by lawyers, and ongoing services provided by law students.
Learn more about the paralegal scope of practice: Do I Need a Paralegal?
The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) has committed to expanding the paralegal scope of practice over the next four years. Presented to Convocation Dec. 4, the Priority Planning Committee strategic plan report to Convocation outlines significant changes that will have a dramatic effect on the future of legal services in Ontario.
The changes are “robust and ambitious,” affecting paralegal education entry standards, mentoring, professional development, and competence assurance, in addition to expanding the scope of practice. Paralegal-specific measures in the Strategic Plan 2015–2019 include:
- Working to ensure that high quality instruction is being offered by the accredited institutions that educate paralegal licensee candidates
- Examining enhancements to the paralegal licensing requirements, including possible additional education and training prior to entering an accredited paralegal program
- Exploring the expansion of areas of practice and delivery of services by paralegal licensees
Under the heading of “lifelong competence” for licensees, the report suggests post-licensing testing may go hand-in-hand with any expanded practice. Paralegal education, including setting entry-level standards for students, is also set to change. The four-year priorities include CPD changes, beefed-up formal mentoring and mental-health supports for all licensees.
Paralegal Simon Brown’s Favourite Marketing & Management Resources for the Pod-Curious
“Don’t Let Law Schooling Get In the Way of Your Legal Education”
~ Bastardization of a quote attributed to Mark Twain.
We live in a wonderful age of information. Access to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses and legal research can be done at the touch of a button or screen. Substantive law and professionalism are offered by our colleges, associations, societies, and the regulator. But there is precious little about advocacy, legal marketing, and practice management out there to help you sharpen your skills.
Fortunately, the gap has been bridged by entrepreneurial lawyers and legal educators through the use of blogs and podcasts. I’ve assembled a list of them that I use on a regular basis. Most of these are based in the United States, but there is a universality that cannot be denied.
CanLII and CanLII Connects are free Canadian legal information sources. They reach a wide audience of legal services providers, law students and the general public. Recent content particularly relevant for Ontario paralegals:
- Duty to Accommodate – Being “right” in the end isn’t enough; it matters how you get there 2009 HRTO 1641
- Unfavourable ruling does not signal bias at the HRTO – Velegjanin v. Toronto Police Services Board, 2015 HRTO 912 (CanLII)
- Establishing discrimination with circumstantial evidence – 2009 HRTO 1242
- Human Rights general damages on the rise – $75,000 awarded in British Columbia
- What do the words “we have an agreement” mean?
- BCCA clarifies McKinley: “contextual approach” and prior discipline
- Interest Act protection applied to promissory note – P.A.R.C.E.L. Inc. v. Acquaviva, 2015 ONCA 331
- Wrongful dismissal twitter comments – social media in the spotlight”
- HRTO misapplies the de minimis doctrine – “A square peg in a round hole?”
- New research add-on for CanLii – test-drive the “LexBox” beta
- Paralegal firm and agent “used the defendant’s 11(b) rights as an offensive weapon” – Mississauga (City) v. Ciocan, 2015 ONCJ 293 (CanLII)
- “Boiler-plate” disclosure requests contribute to s. 11(b) denial in Toronto OCJ; R. v. Ghobrial, 2015 ONCJ 288 (CanLII)
See more paralegal-specific cases at the Scope publisher page.