Convocation: Elected Paralegals Should be Benchers

Convocation Hall

Convocation Hall

Convocation has approved a legislative change recommendation that would see all elected paralegals become benchers.

The Priority Planning Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada made the recommendation April 25.

The committee reviews priorities established by Convocation. Its report to Convocation notes that “good governance for the Law Society is supported by having all elected paralegals be decision-makers in Convocation to ensure the effective exercise of the mandate to govern lawyers and paralegals in the public interest.”

Currently, five paralegals are elected to the Paralegal Standing Committee, which then elects two paralegals as benchers. An amendment to the Law Society Act is required to implement the change.

The Paralegal Standing Committee elected Michelle Haigh as the first elected Paralegal Bencher. She commented: “This was an initiative near and dear to my 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 goal is to have the change in place before the next election of paralegals in March 2014.

Cathy Corsetti chairs the Paralegal Standing Committee. She notes that it comprises five elected paralegals, five elected lawyer benchers and three lay benchers. The committee looks at policy and regulation of paralegals.

“Those five elected paralegals are the only paralegals that work on Law Society Committees,” Corsetti says. “We have many different working groups that stem from the original committee, which include lawyers and non-lawyers. The PSO and LPA meet with law society staff several times a year. For any paralegal that is not one of the five elected, it is your association — I, like many paralegals, belong to both — that will bring forward issues to the Law Society.”

Working groups currently include an “Exemption working group” and a “Morris Report working group.”

Both reports mandated by the five-year statutory review of paralegal regulation – the Law Society’s report and the Morris Report – raise the issue of paralegal representation within the appropriate structure of Convocation.

The April 25 report states that: “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.”

The report also notes that “Under the current Treasurer, all five elected paralegals have been invited to attend and speak at Convocation” though only the elected bencher may vote.

In his 2000 report to the Attorney General, “A Framework for Regulating Paralegal Practice in Ontario,” (The Cory Report), former Justice Peter Cory suggested that the appropriate body to regulate paralegals would be independent of both the provincial government and the Law Society. The Convocation background report notes that Justice Cory said self–governance would not be feasible for several years.

“Eventually, perhaps, after ten years, the paralegals will become self-governing,” Justice Cory said. “This should not occur until the institution is well established and has the confidence of the public and the provincial government.”

The April 25 Convocation report states that “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.”

The number of elected benchers has not increased since 1970.

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