The Ontario legislature today passed Bill 111. The Modernizing Regulation of the Legal Profession Act increases the number of elected paralegal benchers, from two to five, among other changes.
Attorney General John Gerretsen introduced Bill 111, “An Act to amend the Law Society Act and the Solicitors Act,” in the legislature Oct. 1. The Law Society of Upper Canada had adopted the changes at Convocation last spring.
“Passage of this legislation represents a significant milestone in the regulation and development of Ontario’s growing paralegal profession,” Law Society Treasurer Tom Conway said. “Ultimately, these and other amendments included in the legislation will help pave the way for more effective and accessible legal services in Ontario.”
Voting Rights for PSC Members
Previously, two of the five licensed paralegals elected to the Paralegal Standing Committee (PSC) were elected as benchers, able to vote at Convocation, the meeting of the Law Society’s board.
The Law Society has regulated paralegals since 2007; some 5,600 paralegals are now under its governance. The change in bencher makeup is among the recommendations in an independent five-year review (the Morris Report), which also found that the regulation of paralegals by the Law Society was a “remarkable success.”
Cathy Corsetti chairs the PSC. “I am extremely pleased with the commitment shown by the government and the Law Society to further strengthen paralegal regulation in Ontario,” Corsetti said. “These new enhancements to Law Society governance are an important first step in implementing the Morris Report recommendations.”
Benefits of Five Elected Benchers
Last April, PSC member Michelle Haigh, who was the first elected paralegal bencher, said the bencher increase was “near and dear” to her heart. “After serving my first term on the PSC as a non-bencher and my second term as a bencher, I understand the need and benefit of having all elected paralegals as benchers.”
The legislation will also:
- Align legislation with current practice by providing that paralegals may charge for providing legal services.
- Create a new body called the law society tribunal, incorporating the appeals division and hearing panel, overseen by a full-time, non-bencher, lawyer chair.
- Allow the law society to suspend a lawyer or paralegal’s licence for failure to pay legal costs related to a discipline hearing.
- Clarify that the law society can receive solicitor-client privileged information from any person, such as a client, and introduce such information in proceedings while protecting that privilege.
An April report to Convocation notes:
“The responsible and appropriate response of the Law Society to the five-year review governance recommendations is to base the incentive for reforms not on a system of proportionality but on principles of effective governance.
“The current structure is based on the notion that Convocation benefits from the contribution of a significant core of elected benchers (40 lawyers and two paralegals) who bring perspectives from various regions and practice experiences.
“Having a reasonable number of elected paralegal benchers who are willing to contribute time and effort to governance will ensure that a range of views and perspectives informed by practice experiences will be offered. Determining that the five elected paralegals be elected as benchers with decision-making authority will accomplish this effectively for the foreseeable future.”
Putting it in Perspective
The number of elected benchers has not increased since 1970.
Other amendments introduced in Bill 111 enable the Law Society to strengthen its hearing and appeals process for alleged cases of professional misconduct involving lawyers and paralegals, to make it more transparent, fair and cost-effective. This includes appointing an independent Tribunal Chair, who is not a Law Society bencher.
Paralegal Society of Ontario president John Tzanis told a lawyers’ magazine that the bencher change is unlikely to tip the scales in paralegals’ favour, but will provide more opportunities to negotiate and work with the 40 lawyer and lay benchers.
The Law Society thanked Attorney General Gerretsen for his leadership and support. MPPs who spoke to the motion at committee — two days before the legislature’s Christmas break — include Julia Munro, Jagmeet Singh, Sylvia Jones and Christine Elliott.
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Morris Report to the Attorney General