Faced with a potential legal issue, more and more Ontarians are hearing: “Call a paralegal.” But what is a paralegal, anyway, and why should you contact one?
Paralegals are the newest members of Ontario’s legal services community.
Ontario’s 7,500 or so paralegals are licensed and regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) – the same organization that regulates lawyers on behalf of the public. Five paralegals sit on the “board of governors” of the LSUC. The Law Society has regulated paralegals since 2008. The Law Society oversees paralegals and lawyers, to ensure they provide competent services to the public.
Ontario paralegals are licensed to provide a limited range of legal services. You will find paralegals working in courthouses and courtrooms, at government offices, in lawyers’ offices, in legal clinics – and independently representing clients in court and at hundreds of tribunals in Ontario.
Paralegals are true advocates. Paralegals represent clients who need help with legal issues and offer advice on dealing with legal matters that are within the “paralegal scope of practice.” Paralegal fees are generally below those of lawyers who practise law in these same areas.
Paralegals represent clients in four main areas:
- Provincial Offences-related tickets
- Small Claims Court (for civil suits of less than $25,000 per claim)
- Summary conviction-prosecuted offences in criminal courts
- Administrative tribunals – such as Ontario Human Rights Tribunal; Landlord and Tenant Board; Social Benefits Tribunal; municipal licensing tribunals and committees; housing and education committees
Paralegals can provide legal advice and represent people who have been given a ticket under hundreds of different laws and by-laws.
Drivers are familiar with paralegals fighting their traffic tickets under the Highway Traffic Act, but there is much more to Provincial Offences than speeding and careless driving tickets. Cases heard at Provincial Offences Court include:
- Occupational Health and Safety Act charges (Example: company charged with not providing safety equipment)
- Liquor Licence Act (Example: no liquor licence for a reception)
- Dog Owner’s Liability Act (Example: dog bites)
- Municipal By-laws (Example: excessive noise)
- Trespass to Property Act (Example: asked to leave a premise)
- Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (Example: hunting out of season)
- Environmental Protection Act (Example: improper disposal of used oil)
Paralegals can provide legal advice and representation at Agencies, Boards, Commissions and Tribunals in Ontario.
These are created by the government to make decisions about certain rights and privileges – for instance, whether someone is entitled to social benefits, to a driver’s licence, or to compensation for a human rights violation.
Administrative bodies include:
- Landlord and Tenant Board
- Ontario Social Benefits Tribunal
- Ontario Human Rights Commission
- Canada Pension Plan Appeals
- Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO — Statutory Accident benefits)
- Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeal Tribunal (WSIAT)
- Alcohol and Gaming Commission
- Municipal planning boards and licensing tribunals (Business licensing, re-zoning, building permits)
- Criminal Injuries Compensation Board
- Licensing Appeals Tribunal
- Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and Assessment Review Board (MPAC)
Paralegals can provide legal advice and representation for all criminal summary offences, which are prosecuted in the Ontario Court of Justice.
These are relatively minor charges, and include:
- Theft under $5,000
- Causing a disturbance
- Committing an indecent act in public
- Possession of a weapon in public
Some criminal matters can be prosecuted under the summary process, if the Crown chooses to use that method of prosecution. Examples are assault and criminal harassment. If the Crown chooses to use the summary prosecution, a paralegal can represent a client on that matter.
Quick Facts About Paralegals:
- Paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada to:
- Give legal advice concerning legal interests, rights or responsibilities with respect to a proceeding or the subject matter of a proceeding
- Draft or assist with drafting documents for use in a proceeding
- Negotiate on behalf of a person who is a party to a proceeding
- Paralegals who were not “grandfathered” – licensed after providing legal services for a number of years and passing an examination – have:
- Graduated from a Law Society accredited paralegal services program
- Completed at least 120 placement hours in a legal setting
- Passed a licensing examination and have no “good character” issues
- Paralegals must carry Errors & Omissions insurance, just as lawyers do.
- Paralegals can appear before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to represent a client in an Immigration Review Board (IRB) hearing, and can provide legal services to clients for matters relating to an IRB hearing.
- Paralegals are Commissioners of Oaths. This means that clients can swear an oath before a paralegal, who has confirmed the person’s identity and verified the person’s signature on a document, such as an affidavit or declaration.
Protect yourself: Confirm whether someone who is offering legal services is competent and licensed, at the LSUC Directory.