SCOPE contributor Dan McIntyre is a paralegal with more than 30 years’ experience with landlord and tenant issues. He shares his thoughts on how his practice has changed in the six years since the Law Society of Upper Canada began licensing paralegals. A semi-retired licensee, Dan would like to see a few things changed.
I just turned 64, but I don’t look a day over 61. I really don’t want to turn into an old coot –- but I do want to offer some thoughts to young whippersnappers about the paralegal profession and licensing. Thoughts you might not like.
Paralegal licensing has done virtually nothing to help legitimate, dedicated paralegals. It has kept charlatans out of the business and deserves credit for that. In fact, licensing has been an unnecessary burden to me (and I believe many others).
I have been licensed for four years. In that time, I have not done a single thing or helped a single person that I could not have helped without a licence.
Cost-Benefit Analysis: Fees Versus Income
I now have the ability to swear affidavits –- that could once have helped, but was not imperative in my case. I am basically part time and semi-retired. The costs associated with licensing have been over $10,000 so far, more than 10% of my gross income during that period. The cost increases even further if you take into account the costs of obtaining a licence in the first place.
We are mandated to purchase insurance, to take Continuing Professional Development (CPD), to pay a full fee to the Law Society, and to file annual reports.
I was in private practice as a sideline many years ago. Every client willingly signed a waiver acknowledging that I was not a lawyer and that I did not carry errors and omission insurance. The Statutory Powers Procedure Act already had provisions to exclude incompetent representatives. I never had a problem. Neither did my clients.
Let Consumers Decide: Insured or Not
I realize that most paralegals feel that insurance is a good thing. My position is that it should not be mandatory. If the consumer feels it is necessary, they can refuse to hire me (I would require them to sign a waiver) and hire somebody who is insured. And no one has yet answered this question for me: If we can only practice law in jurisdictions up to $25,000, why must we carry $1,000,000 of insurance?
So, now I pay dues to the Law Society. I have on a couple of occasions called them for practice issues. I know that if the Law Society received a complaint about me, I could expect a proper and fair resolution. But on the other hand, it means someone has the right to rant and rave and blow something out of proportion, forcing me to respond and have a complaint hanging over my head. One disgruntled customer can threaten my livelihood.
I must do 12 hours a year of CPD, too. Sometimes these seminars have been interesting, but so is watching the news on television. I have had to pay extra for this service. On a cost-benefit basis, it has been a drain on my limited resources. Almost nothing has helped me serve my clients –- and there are far better ways to improve my skills.
Changing Needs for Changing Times
Recently, I have seen fellow paralegals, whom I respect and like, get all excited over the increased number of paralegals as benchers. Here are issues that this aging coot is concerned about:
1. I want to be able to represent my clients at Divisional Court appeals IF I represented them at the Landlord Tenant Board. (My entire practice is representing tenants).
2. If a prospective client can get a legal aid certificate, they should be able to hire a paralegal.
3. Paralegals should be able to work as duty counsel if they are qualified by their skills and expertise. I can’t compete for duty counsel positions at the LTB, despite decades of experience.
4. I want substantially relaxed rules for part-time and semi-retired paralegals, with regards to dues, CPD requirements and insurance.
5. Too many young people are working towards a paralegal licence at high personal costs, but without reasonable expectations that they will be able to make a reasonable living as a paralegal.
Does putting three more paralegals on the bench do anything to help us with these issues? Note that my first three concerns require legislative change, and frankly should have been addressed in the Access to Justice legislation that was the basis for licensing in the first place.
And although keeping charlatans out is a good thing, licensing also may be keeping some good people out, who only want to practice on an occasional basis.
Contact Dan McIntyre:
Paralegal and Consulting Services