In an exceptional exchange, Attorney General John Gerretsen engaged in a question-and-answer session with paralegals Monday night, at an LPA/PSO lecture series event in Toronto.
Setting aside his planned remarks, Gerretsen spoke of the progress made, and challenges ahead, for paralegals in the province, then fielded questions that included expanding the scope of practice, statutory language that excludes paralegals, courthouse procedures, effective lobbying, and the role of paralegals in access to justice.
One area of common ground was that, while much has improved since licensing came in six years ago, there is much work to be done, to bring paralegals more fully into the legal fold.
Gerretsen urged paralegals to tackle legislative changes slowly, carefully and persistently, through their organizations. He called the pending LPA/PSO amalgamation — to the new Ontario Paralegal Association — an example of the unified voice that can effect change.
“There is political strength in numbers. You can speak one-on-one, but if you speak together, with one voice, people will listen and change will come. Formulate and present your arguments. Present them, in writing, to both the government and to the Law Society, in a united fashion.”
Gerretsen offered advice gained from decades as both a lawyer and a politician.
“Influence is more important than votes,” he said. “If you want the system to move on anything, band together. Put your positions forward, forcefully, so people can react. Change will come, as change has come, in five years. In five years’ time, things may change. The scope of practice may change and it may not all be to your satisfaction. I can see your role expanding over the years, particularly when it comes to unrepresented parties. Old biases are changing. Attitudes are changing.”
He referred to Bill 111, An Act to amend the Law Society Act and the Solicitors Act as an example. The bill, introduced Oct. 1, will increase the number of LSUC paralegal benchers from two to five, among other housekeeping and updating measures. The Law Society approved the changes in April and took the proposal to the Ministry of the Attorney General. Gerretsen hopes to see the legislation passed in time for the 2014 paralegal elections.
Bill 111 was developed with input from the Paralegal Standing Committee (PSC); the attorney general singled-out PSC chair Cathy Corsetti for her efforts in promoting the change. “She spoke forcefully and people listened.”
Gerretsen has announced that he will not seek re-election in the next provincial election. He spoke of his career in municipal and provincial politics, saying that he, too, can be impatient with the pace of change at the provincial level.
“I’d love to implement all the things you are saying, but that is not going to happen,” he said. “If you push too hard, there will be counter-action on the other side.”
Several paralegals questioned why legislative amendments, including those recommended in the Morris Report and LPA/PSO report on paralegal licensing more than a year ago, have not been effected. Just last week, an act that could have updated the wording of the Collection Agencies Act, passed third reading without the amendment, despite pleas from paralegals organizations and individual paralegals to do so.
Gerretsen agreed that a number of acts, with their pre-licensing, exclusionary language, seem unfair. He said his office will look into the issues raised.
LPA and PSO presidents Robert Burd and John Tzanis said relations between lawyers and paralegals have never been more “collegial.” The paralegal community has had a champion in Gerretsen, who has been remarkably supportive and available.
“We need you folks,” Gerretsen told the lecture series audience. “Very much. It’s all about client interests and making sure that people who need legal services and legal advice, can get it.”
Bill 111 – An Act to amend the Law Society Act and the Solicitors Act
Bencher Election Reforms Moving Forward
Five-year Report Recommends Expanding Scope of Practice