Paralegal SCOPE presents the second in a series of Q & As for the PSC Election 2014. All answers are posted at the same time. Candidate names will be rotated, to ensure “alphabetical fairness.”
How can the Paralegal Standing Committee be effective, given that only five members are paralegals?
Good communication is just one key to success as a member of the Paralegal Standing Committee. Much of really important work that goes on is outside the “formal” setting of the committee meetings. Getting elected is just the start of an ongoing process of carefully and consistently persuading other committee members and giving them the information they need, to make decisions that protect the public and that respond to the paralegal community.
The five bencher members who will serve at Convocation will need to be skillful and experienced influencers, able to speak with clarity and purpose to all the issues raised at meetings, in reports, and at Convocation. Calm reason is more likely to succeed, than an aggressive stance that will only alienate other committee members and benchers.
It is important to elect members who understand that winning hearts and minds is a long-term process. Trust, built day-by-day, comment-by-comment, promise-kept by promise-kept, is the most effective way to bring sensible change at a manageable pace.
The answer to being effective with only five members as paralegals is not that complicated.
First and easiest, we all have to know the material and do our research. We will be given lots of material to thoroughly read for our own committee and in addition, we must read the material from other committees. This knowledge will give us an idea for what the Treasurer, Chairs and Law Society staff are thinking, which can be a huge asset. It is vital to have intelligent contributions in committee discussions, not only with the paralegal committee but with all committees. This earns us respect; thus, when we speak, people will listen.
Secondly, converse and lobby your fellow paralegals and other committee members. This should be done in advance of the meeting so you know where you stand before the meeting begins. Be prepared to work outside of committee times. This is our future.
Thirdly, sell the paralegal idea, be convincing. When any paralegal has the floor in a meeting, they need to be passionate, confident and knowledgeable to convince the non-paralegals to vote in favour of the paralegal issues.
Lastly, create relationships. Work the room, as they say. Get to know non-paralegal members on a personal level. It’s harder to say no to someone when you have a personal relationship.
The five paralegal members have to work together and be united. We cannot go into meetings with five different views or even two different views. The paralegals need to be seen as one strong and tight group of five. Having a paralegal as the chair affords us the opportunity to lead and dominate our committee, but the hard work starts before convocation. Convincing others that our issues are in the public’s best interest is the key.
In the past four years, I have had the privilege of serving as Chair of the Paralegal Standing Committee. The committee is comprised of the five elected paralegals, five elected lawyer benchers and three appointed lay benchers. This is a statutory requirement.
Each year, the current Treasurer appoints which lawyer and lay benchers will be part of our committee. I must say that we have been fortunate to have the “cream” of the bencher pool! The different perspectives among the 13 members are very helpful in making decisions. We have a wealth of expertise, ranging from a former Attorney General to a rabbi, and I fit in somewhere in between.
I have often heard that our committee is “not balanced,” since only five of us are paralegals, but this is far from the truth. Every member who attends these meetings, the second Thursday afternoon of each month at 1:30, is there with only one agenda: the public and the paralegal profession.
The profession must remember that the PSC mandate is to regulate paralegals in the public interest, not in the paralegals’ best interests. The paralegals’ best interest is within the associations’ mandates; there is a big difference.
I sincerely hope that every paralegal who is reading this votes in this coming election, while keeping in mind what the role is, of members of the PSC.
Contact Paula Callaghan:
I believe that the effectiveness of the Paralegal Standing Committee lies in the building of positive relationships:
1) Relationships between each other, to develop a united voice of the PSC.
2) Relationships with the members of each of the many committees.
3) Relationships with the other benchers, to effectively communicate the paralegal perspective.
4) Relationships with the paralegal associations, to ensure open communication from the lobby groups.
5) Relationships with independent paralegals who want to communicate their experiences and perspectives.
With positive relationships, I believe the PSC can be an influential voice at Convocation.
I believe that the five members of the Paralegal Standing Committee can be effective in their roles if they concentrate on three things; commitment, experience, and collaboration.
Commitment – Committed members of the PSC will always be in attendance, preferably in person, in order to properly build relationships and provide effective feedback. New members to the PSC will bring themselves up to speed on current projects and voice their opinions on items they feel are not being addressed. Members will participate at convocation and networking/social events in order to influence other benchers.
Experience – The members of the PSC need to be representative of the profession. We require the perspective from paralegals in all major areas of practice, such as POA, Small Claims Court, Landlord & Tenant, Criminal, WSIB and other tribunals. This will ensure that all aspects of the profession are being considered. Other considerations for a valued member are educational background and volunteer experience.
Collaboration – All members must endeavour to work collaboratively towards a common goal. When I look at the candidates platforms, I don’t see much difference in the goals they want to achieve. Working professionally with others, sharing resources, and having open and frank discussions, will assist the members in building confidence in one another and can allow them to collectively persuade non-paralegal benchers in order to attain those goals.
All new benchers, not just paralegal benchers, have a learning curve and need to earn the respect of their peers. This includes their peers on the PSC and the other benchers at convocation. This will allow for influential lobbying and allow us to build the support we need at convocation.
The biggest downfall is if paralegal candidates underestimate the amount of time and dedication this position holds. Without 100% dedication, commitment, and collaboration, the job won’t get done.
The licensing exam is being updated. How will this affect the profession?
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