Paralegal SCOPE presents the tenth in a series of Q & As for the PSC Election 2014. All answers are posted at the same time. Listed Candidates have supported the profession by helping to make SCOPE possible. Listed Candidates care about ensuring that paralegals have access to information, not just during the election, but each and every day. These Candidates have supported a new licensee.
What is the appropriate role for paralegals, in the provision of legal services in Ontario?
The appropriate role for paralegals is to provide the people of Ontario competent legal services at affordable rates.
It is important that paralegals continue to strive to improve their skills by continuing to learn, keep up to date with case law and networking.
Paralegals came into existence because of the people of Ontario demanding legal services at affordable rates.
I believe specialty licenses is a way that paralegals can continue to provide affordable legal services while permitting an expanded scope of practice.
The current placement for paralegal students should be extended beyond the 140 hours in order that students can graduate and be in a much better position to provide legal services. After, if a paralegal wants to be a specialist, they can continue their education in a very specific area of practice. After such time they would be given a specialty license. This framework could then be used for expanding our scope of practice.
Paralegals play a key role in access to justice by being able to assist low income Ontarians so that we can reduce the number of unrepresented parties in all areas of law.
Learn more about Robert Burd Election Statement
This is the $64,000 question and essentially what we are trying to do in determining our scope of practice. This is an expansive public policy debate that goes well beyond the issues of just paralegals. How a person answers this question, at least if they are being epistemologically consistent, reflects that person’s perspectives of the role and purpose of government itself.
Paralegals should see their role historically as the latest adaptation of the machinery of democracy. Democracy is about legitimacy of power. Government of the people, by the people, for the people. The people give power, in trust, to the government, which distributes that power to various agencies, associations and “special” groups. As part of the Law Society, paralegals are now part of that democratic system of power distribution.
Consider the functional role of lawyers. Initially “Old Bailey” trials were a mass confusion with a dozen or more people tried simultaneously. The jury was idealized as “the last defence of common-man against the use arbitrary power,” but judges often cajoled and brow-beat the jury to get their desired verdict. One of the main roles of the lawyer was to “get in-between the judge and the jury.”
From a functionalist view. the lawyer was to prevent abuse of power in court and in society in general. Lawyers gave people the levers with which to secure their rights. They act as facilitators… whether it be divorce, incorporation or criminal defence, the lawyer enabled people to obtain an objective within the rules of the society.
But as society gets more complex, so do its laws. Because of cost, lawyers have effectively vacated many areas of law. Paralegals now fill the functional void left by lawyers by facilitating “access to justice.”
From this perspective, the DEFAULT PRINCIPLE should be for paralegals to able to provide legal service anywhere there is any functional void left by lawyers. Be it immigration, family law, or anywhere… “Access to Justice” means “ACCESS to RIGHTS.” Those opposed to expanded practice have the onus to prove it is not in the public interest… NOT the other way around.
Learn more about Ian Wilkinson
The justice system in Ontario is in crisis. More and more, we are seeing self-represented litigants trying to navigate their way through the system. Too often, these unrepresented people are frightened and ill-equipped to tackle their legal issues. The cost of a lawyer is out of reach for the average citizen. There is a growing need for cost-effective, alternative legal representation.
Enter the paralegal!
Paralegals are an integral part of our justice system. We can play an ever-increasing and important role. Currently paralegals are limited in the scope of legal services in which we are permitted to practice. I hope to see the scope of practice expanded.
I believe that in order to expand into new areas, we need to establish targeted educational programs. This would ensure that educational standards are met, while also ensuring public confidence in the profession. The public needs to know that when they hire a paralegal they are hiring a legal services provider who has been trained to deliver services competently.
Legislative change is needed to accurately reflect the role of paralegals in today’s justice system. Various acts should be changed. I would like to see change in the distinction of Barrister and Solicitor work, so that paralegals can perform more tasks associated with the tribunals and courts in which we are already permitted to practice. These changes would increase access to justice for the truly vulnerable in our province.
I believe that, over time, the paralegal profession will be able to achieve the steady progress that the public needs and deserves. The PSC and the professional associations can work separately, within their different mandates and roles, to promote the changes that will contribute to access to justice, by increasing the roles available to paralegals.
If elected, I will work within the mandate of the PSC and Convocation, to ensure that the paralegal profession we see today will become a more robust and expanded profession in the coming years.
Learn more about Paula Callaghan
It is my view that the appropriate role for paralegals in the Province of Ontario is already defined by the very reason our profession was required, namely, there was an absence of sufficient numbers of traditional legal service providers working in areas of law deemed to be unprofitable.
To provide a historical perspective: In 1984 there were 19,000 lawyers in the Province. There was no standard “free consultation.” A lawyer referral program consultation was $20 for a 30-minute meeting. A lawyer’s fee for traffic court ranged from $700 to $1200. There was no standard “flat fee” available. A lawyer was not permitted to accept credit cards; payment was by cash or certified cheque. A lawyer was not permitted to advertise; therefore, a citizen could not know, in advance, if a lawyer had experience in an area of law.
In forums such as POA Court, Small Claims Court, Landlord and Tenant, and other Boards and Tribunals, the public had no representation or guidance, because they could not afford it.
As a result, a citizen’s access to justice was impeded or denied through prohibitive costs and lawyer indifference.
The public was in dire need of competent and affordable help.
It arrived, that same year, in the form of independent paralegals. Fee payment, marketing and client service methods were developed to what they are today.
After 30 years, Ontario citizens are now comfortable with the service provided by paralegals. I have no doubt that, wherever and whenever access to justice is negatively impacted by professional abdication of any area of law, those same citizens will, again, look to paralegals for assistance.
However, for us to maintain that public confidence and trust, we must acknowledge and accept that our primary role will always be to facilitate access to justice for each citizen and to ensure the right to be heard will never be sacrificed, or diminished, by professional incompetence or the unreasonable pursuit of economic advantage.
Remember… Michelle Haigh, Cathy Corsetti and I have the necessary experience in Convocation to ensure the continued development and expansion of our profession. VOTE today!
Learn more about Brian Lawrie
The appropriate role for paralegals in Ontario is defined by legislation, by the Law Society and by paralegals ourselves, in the way we provide competent legal services each and every day across the province.
The Law Society, in its role and mandate established by the province, governs paralegals and lawyers in the best interest of the public. Paralegals play an important and growing role, as we help to ensure that the public has access to the justice system, and that financial barriers are not the largest factor in determining whether a citizen can be adequately represented.
Paralegals currently provide services within a limited scope of practice. But that “limit” does not mean “less.” In fact, there are opportunities within the permitted scope that go beyond the big-three areas of POA, Small Claims and Residential Tenancies Act matters. Paralegals at all stages of their careers find clients and earn a living in tribunals and agencies, representing clients who would otherwise not have any legal advice at all.
I believe that the role of paralegals will expand. The changes to paralegal education, in accreditation and audits, and the substantive examination being introduced, will contribute to an expanded scope. One cannot happen without the other. Expanding into new areas, ensuring competent provision from properly trained providers, is the appropriate role for paralegals.
Cathy Corsetti, Brian Lawrie and I have the necessary experience in Convocation to ensure the continued development and expansion of our profession.
We are leaders in our infant field, setting the stage for all Canadians seeking affordable legal services. Our role is to provide affordable legal services, increasing access to justice.
A broader scope of practice for paralegals, in the courtroom and the office, would bring necessary legal services within the reach of many who cannot currently access them. I envision a specialized divorce proceedings paralegal; paralegals specializing in drafting real estate documents. These individuals would obtain competence through targeted training, excellence through experience.
It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. I see wisdom, have compassion, and courage, to guide growth, professionalism, and effective legal services, depending on constant competent activities.
The regulatory scheme set out in By- Law 4, permits paralegals to practise in what were already permitted areas of practice: Small Claims Court; in the Ontario Court of Justice under the Provincial Offences Act; on summary conviction offences where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months’ imprisonment; before administrative tribunals, including the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.
In the course of representing a client in any of the above-mentioned proceedings, we: can give legal advice concerning legal interests, rights or responsibilities with respect to a proceeding or the subject matter of a proceeding; draft or assist with drafting documents for use in a proceeding; negotiate on behalf of a person who’s party to a proceeding.
Maintaining professional honesty, integrity and up to date knowledge is mandatory. There’s no point in having a justice system that nobody can afford to use. Needing to keep the justice system relevant and available to Canadian men, women, children, offering prompt resolution of issues, so they can move on with their lives or businesses, paralegals offer and deliver effective legal representation, assisting in times of need.
There is no excellence without labour. Excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what we have to offer. The destiny of our profession is married with extreme excellence. Gathering our talents, exceeding high expectations, I am committed.
Paralegals fill a number of different roles in the provision of legal services.
- We are advocates for Rights.
- We are facilitators for resolution.
- We are researchers of substantive law.
- We prepare documentation to be relied on.
- We are an economical alternative to lawyers.
- We are a competent alternative to self-representation.
- We are educators of the public on matters of law and procedure.
- We provide access to justice in a multitude of venues for a myriad of conflicts.
In time, the means by which these roles are fulfilled will expand with the creativity of the individuals who practice.
Paralegals have a very important role in the provision of legal services in Ontario. Our profession has been regulated to practice in areas were a large proportion of the litigants were self represented. We have proven to be an important part in providing Access to Justice to the people of Ontario.
I believe that there is room to expand paralegals scope but not until the proper education and training is established. I think our profession is getting it right with the scope we have now, and am encouraged when I speak to new paralegals who are branching out into new areas of our scope. I often hear of family law proceedings have a large percentage of unrepresented litigants, and that is true. But I also hear of a large portion of unrepresented litigants in tribunals that are within our scope, for example, the Human Rights Tribunal.
I also see the development of paralegals working in law firms. I see lawyers as one of our largest clients and they are seeing that this competent profession that is now regulated and insured can assist them in their practice.
I am excited to see what the next four years will bring and I am hopeful that “paralegal” will become a household word when legal representation is needed.
Make sure on election day the candidate you vote for has the time and the passion to do the job.
Michelle Haigh, Brian Lawrie and I have the necessary experience in Convocation to ensure the continued development and expansion of our profession.
It’s March, 2018. Looking back on your PSC term, what are you most proud of?
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Candidate Q&A has been available to all Candidates, as every other campaign service. These listed Candidates demonstrate support for the profession and for new licensees.