Paralegals in British Columbia will come under the same regulatory umbrella as lawyers, with the approval in principle of an access-to-justice based regulation framework for paralegals and notaries public.
At its Dec. 9 meeting, Law Society of British Columbia benchers unanimously approved in principle three recommendations, which will create a regulatory framework to oversee certified paralegals, and bring both notaries public and paralegals under its governance.
The B.C. Law Society will provide paralegals who have met specific, prescribed standards, with a certificate that would allow them to be held out as “certified paralegals.” The change will transform the regulation and delivery of legal services in B.C.
Law societies in British Columbia and Quebec are looking to the Ontario licensing model, with a view to licensing the profession in their jurisdictions.
The moves are seen as meeting access-to-justice principles, and protecting the public from untrained renegades.
Art Vertlieb, President of the Law Society of British Columbia, attended the Paralegal Welcome Reception Nov. 20 and addressed Convocation the next day. He met with staff and benchers to learn more about the paralegal licensing system, in anticipation of full licensing in B.C.
Paralegals Crucial to Access to Justice
Vertlieb was struck by the way Ontario lawyers have embraced licensed paralegals, and how quickly the new licensee category has secured a crucial role in providing access to justice within its scope.
“Access to justice is our ‘global warming,'” Vertlieb told Convocation. “It’s not just a catch-word; it’s what binds us together. Paralegals are making a difference in society. There was so much enthusiasm at the Reception for paralegals. The way lawyers have embraced them, and the fact the Attorney General came to speak. I had no idea there was such a tradition in this province, of independent paralegals.”
B.C. is looking to the experience of Ontario and Alberta in licensing paralegal service providers. Quebec is considering its own licensing scheme. Manitoba has its own paralegal accreditation system.
“Ultimately, we will move to regulation, like Ontario,” Vertlieb said. “We need to get on board and bring in a program of licensing that addresses access to justice issues.”
Two-year B.C. Pilot Project
Jan. 1, 2013, the Law Society of British Columbia changed its rules, to allow paralegals at law firms to be “designated paralegals,” permitted to give advice under the supervision of a lawyer. During the two-year pilot project, designated paralegals will handle straightforward procedural matters. B.C.’s designated paralegals have a limited right to appear in court.
Paralegals in Quebec are asking to be formally recognized by the Barreau du Québec — the province’s legal profession governing body.
The Quebec Association of Paralegals (QAP) met with the Comité sur les techniciens juridiques du Barreau du Québec (the regulator’s paralegal committee) Nov. 18 and officially asked to be recognized.
“We’re just asking to recognize that we exist, that we’re a force in Quebec and we’re here to stay,” says the QAP’s Gianni Chiazzese. “Paralegals in Ontario have been regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada in Ontario. British Columbia [paralegals] have a full relationship with the law society there. That is exactly what we want.”
Hang Up a Shingle, Start Providing Legal Services
Chiazzese says recognition would help to protect the public from unskilled and unlicensed people. “We’re not regulated. Anyone can call themselves a paralegal” in Quebec.
In Alberta, paralegals are not licensed by the law society. They work independently, under supervision of a lawyer or judge. Alberta paralegals are recognized as performing services that differ from legal assistants. They may conduct legal research, submit registration documents to agencies, and assist with certain types of legal matters. They may not represent clients in court.
The Law Society of Manitoba studied whether paralegal licensing would improve access to legal services. In 2010, the president of the Manitoba law society called access to justice “the single greatest threat to self-governance and independence of the legal profession.”
The issue hit family law the hardest, with self-represented parties “doing themselves and others involved a disservice,” Jeff Hirsch said.
Duties Expand, But No regulation
Manitoba is working towards a system of accreditation, short of licensing or regulation, for paralegals. Their duties are to expand, to allow legal assistants and secretaries who are directly supervised by a lawyer, to include family law, civil litigation and limited court appearances.
One big difference between Ontario paralegals and those in other provinces is that licensed Ontario paralegals must be insured. In jurisdictions where paralegals work under licensees’ supervision, they are not required to maintain their own professional liability insurance.
Scope of permitted practice, education standards, ethics requirements, and book-and-record-keeping are among the significant differences between Ontario’s licensed paralegals and “paralegals” in other jurisdictions.
British Columbia Law Society – Certification Bulletin
Alberta Legal Profession Act
Morris Report on the first five years of LSUC licensing
In the United States, the American Bar Association recommends limited licensing of “legal technicians” to provide legal services directly to the public. Three states have taken steps towards such non-lawyer licensing.