Contributor Brett Lockwood offers advice from his experience transitioning from student to Licensed Paralegal and practice owner:
Opening a paralegal firm is a massive – yet rewarding – undertaking. It takes a certain type of individual to muster enough courage and energy for this leap of faith. From my first day of college, I knew that I was born to be a leader and take on this challenge.
Paralegal education is designed to educate and inform students about the law within the scope of practice, which is to say, what paralegals can do in the field. College courses are geared to teach students about opening up their own firm, rather than work for somebody else.
The majority of graduates do not open their own firm, however. This begs the question whether the education process is correctly focused.
For me, it was fortunate that the system is geared this way, although I have heard from others that learning how to open a business is a “waste of time”: if the majority of students end up working for somebody else, what benefit is there to gearing the classes towards sole proprietorships?
I say, to each his own. I had a background in Small Claims Court and knew that would be the focus of my practice.
I attended Seneca College of Applied Arts and earned my paralegal diploma in 2012. While the course load in the accelerated program was somewhat heavy, I was confident that I could hold down a full-time job on the side. Long hours turned into long days. Long days turned into long weeks. The lack of sleep got to me a few times, but I had support from family and friends, and knew the reward at the end was my own paralegal firm.
Although I successfully juggled school, work and family, I do not recommend this for other paralegal students. Trust me. Take the time to go over course material, do extra legwork in terms of research, and ask a lot of questions. The professors are very experienced and are a great source to bounce ideas off of. The extra work you do will pay off in spades later.
The paralegal licensing exam, which is rumoured to be changing over the coming years, tests candidates’ knowledge of ethics, practice management and rules of conduct. These have come into play since I opened my own firm. Take the exam seriously. It is your entrance to the wonderful world of paralegals.
One lesson I’ve learned since writing the paralegal licensing exam is that I must maintain confidence in myself, as well as in the “system.” Rules and bylaws are there for a reason.
My office is in Richmond Hill, but I will (and do!) travel to all courts. I’ve found that paralegals in my area are extremely helpful. Rebecca Ostrowski has been a source of continued support and Muhammad Abid Nisar is always lending me a hand when I need it.
The journey to becoming a successful paralegal is definitely interesting. Not knowing where your next client is coming from is a challenge that WILL make you lose sleep. Having been in practice for some time now, let me tell you this feeling will never quite go away. Knowing your capabilities and having confidence in yourself will go a long way towards peace of mind.
Prospective clients know that success comes with experience and knowledge. Have confidence in yourself and your clients will, too. Small Claims Court is an exceptional part of the justice system. It makes it affordable for the “small guy” to stand up to the big ones. Small Claims Court is truly special. I am able to have my voice heard, legal opinions argued, and best of all, receive timely results.
I chose to practice in Small Claims Court due to my interests, studies, and personal preference. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To contact Brett Lockwood, visit Lockwood Paralegal www.lockwoodparalegal.ca or call at 905-597-4788.