In its last report to Convocation, the current Paralegal Standing Committee (PSC) presented a progress report to highlight the challenges and progress made over its four-year term.
Current PSC Chair Cathy Corsetti told Convocation that the committee’s activities are informed by research and information-gathering conducted during the Law Society’s Five-Year Review of Paralegal Regulation. That report, mandated by the Law Society Act, found that paralegal regulation had already been perceived as successful, a result that was echoed in the external report commissioned by the Attorney General.
The report notes that, the passage of Bill 111 just last December represents an exception from the original governance structure. Having five paralegal benchers will be a significant improvement.
Bill 111 also amended the Solicitors’ Act, an outdated provision that failed to accommodate paralegal licensees. Under the Commissioners for Taking Affidavits Act, all licensed paralegals became commissioners as of right, effective July 2013. Review of other statutes to accommodate paralegals continues, in collaboration with the government, according to the report.
Licensing exemptions in By-law 4 continue to be examined. PSC initiatives continue to press for the status of paralegals, including:
- Paralegal Welcome Reception
- Integration of paralegals into the re-named Law Society Referral Service
- Annual Distinguished Paralegal Award
- Access to the Law Society Member Assistance Plan, for licensees in difficulty
Working with the Law Society’s communications staff on communications activities to support the Law Society’s paralegal initiatives, the PSC successes mention:
- Representation at the Treasurer’s regional outreach dinners
- Promotion of the Law Society Referral Service, following the addition of paralegals to the service
- A webcast for candidates in the upcoming election
- Publication and electronic distribution of the Paralegal Update, and the sharing of information through the Ontario Paralegal Network and Paralegal SCOPE e-magazine
- Addition of a Paralegal section in the online Gazette
The report notes that PSC members have been active in Law Society deliberations concerning matters that affect all licensees, such as:
- New rules on mandatory Continuing Professional Development
- Introduction of the new Law Society Tribunal structure
- Treasurer’s Access to Justice initiative
- Changes to the Paralegal Rules from time to time to improve their effectiveness and usefulness
- Development of rules governing limited scope retainers, and
Consideration of Alternative Business Structures
These changes and activities were accomplished while providing stable, reasonable fees and insurance levels for paralegal licensees, according to the update.
PSC directions are affected by the 2012 Preliminary Legal Needs Report. Two significant developments arising from this work include: strengthening the licensing process, including a substantive-law licensing examination; and implementing a substantive examination regime.
Further to that goal, the PSC presented to February Convocation a report on ways to strengthen the paralegal licensing platform. “This will respond to recent trends in the paralegal education sector with more stringent standards and processes for approval,” the report notes.
Access to justice goals can be met through broadening of the scope of permissible paralegal practice, but that broadening must be linked to the beefed-up paralegal education, work experience, and professional conduct.
Criteria that may be appropriate to consider in relation to increased scope are still being considered, but would likely include:
- Specified years of experience in relevant practice areas
- Additional training, supplementing the basic P1 licence requirements
- Qualifying examinations specific to the area of law
An incremental and methodical approach to expansion would ensure that the areas of scope to be considered are viewed through the “prism of competence,” the report states, reiterating the Morris Report. Stakeholder consultations will continue, with the next PSC term.
Accreditation and Audit Changes Coming
Morris Report – Five Years
Bill 111 Passes – Five Paralegal Benchers