Paralegal Regulation Catches Fire Across Canada

Photo: Vancouver Sun

Art Vertlieb Photo: Vancouver Sun

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.

More information:

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.

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One comment

  1. Lynne turcoote · · Reply

    Why is it that men dominated positions such as Lawyers, Dentists are so apprehensive to regulate women dominated fields under them? Such as Paralegals, who do all the work, research with such low pay in contrast to the revenue of the firm….come on pass along increased salaries and you’ll be amazed at what u get back. The legal field wants women to dress to ensure the company maintains an image. However many paralegals, legal assistants (women dominated field) are not able to find a decent place to live never mind dressing to the nines to impress clients. I love the legal field but I don’t want to b a lawyer I’ve always have enjoyed research. But not for a piddly salary where I’m going to struggle to pay rent and eat never mind a vacation once in a while. Women will take these jobs as they feel they have no other choice. Well I hope they’re partnered so they can have the life they deserve.

    I also mentioned Dentists – still a male dominated field who do not like the fact that many provinces have passed a regulation that hygienists can now practice without orders from a Dentist. I know one hygienist, yes she made an ok salary….however no paid sick days, two weeks vacation and a small bonus and discovered she was responsible alone for bringing in 500,000 a year in teeth cleaning alone. Now perhaps a dentist could give a percentage of total hygienists generated revenue to keep a personnel member happy and incentive to stay. This hygienist was so good in her field other Dentists want her. However She opened her own hygiene practice and is very very successful. Now, the Dentist lost revenue as she’s a n excellent hygienist in the field for 30 years. Maybe the old boys club shouldn’t b so greedy and share a bit of the wealth to make women happy in their workplaces give them sufficient equal pay for their hard work . I think I will start a blog with stats to support what I’ve said. I know these are true as I have the stats. Talk to u soon

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