Change Will Come: AG Gerretsen

Attorney General John Gerretsen speaks to LPA/PSO members and guests. Photo: LPA/PSO

Attorney General John Gerretsen speaks to LPA/PSO members and guests. Photo: LPA/PSO

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.”

Background information:

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

6 comments

  1. I was encouraged by what he said even while being cognisant of the only slightly veiled warning as well (about change not being all of what we want). His basic point valid ‘urged paralegals to tackle legislative changes slowly, carefully and persistently’ as well as strength in numbers and a cogent voice. This means we get good at what we are already doing and solidify our position before we push for new areas of practice.

  2. Tracey Gauley · · Reply

    I agree with Angela Browne’s comment above. “this is the first time when “any” AG took the time to come meet specifically with OUR profession and to have the frank discussion…”

    My feeling is that there is much work yet to be done, (everyone agrees on that point), but as AG Gerretsen said, these things take time and we must unite and speak in numbers to effect the changes we need. He even mentioned that he also shares frustration in the length of time change requires. As Elizabeth mentioned above, he also cautioned about pushing too hard.

    I too wish we could snap our fingers after 6 years of regulation & have all of our wishes come true, but that is not reality in today’s political environment unfortunately.

    Albeit it modest in overall impact toward our goals, his conversation with us was a very positive and strong beginning toward the process of change in my opinion.

    Great article, great event, great AG. We will get there, I am sure of it.

  3. Angela Browne · · Reply

    Al, while I agree in some sense with you, but this is the first time when *any* Attorney General took the time to come meet specifically with OUR profession and to have the frank discussion that he apparently did. He seems to be a very dedicated man. We need to look for some positives from this and gain from his words, unify our voice and to strengthen our profession’s presence across this province.

  4. Hello there,
    I too enjoyed the informative article, but am not sure I would go as far as to call this a great event, as it seems like the paras were somewhat sold out, or ignored, -at least when it came to the collections registry question. Who really represents who on this? Once again, no one really wants to share certain powers, of course. At this point, this should now be viewed as a learning experience.
    Disappointed.

  5. Magdalena · · Reply

    Great event – and a great write-up 🙂

  6. George Brown · · Reply

    great article. I was unable to attend the event but your article provides valuable and informative information.

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