SCOPE presents the fifth in a series of Q & As for the PSC Election 2014. All answers are posted at the same time. Candidate names are rotated from time to time, to ensure “alphabetical fairness.”
A legal professional “… accepts individual responsibility for personal ethics but also a collective responsibility for ensuring that the profession as a whole discharges its role appropriately and ethically.”
- ”Elements of Professionalism,” Chief Justice of Ontario Advisory Committee on Professionalism
Are paralegals living up to this standard? What can the paralegal PSC members do, to encourage professionalism?
Paralegals have the privilege of belonging to a self-regulating profession. The duties we owe professionally and personally go hand in hand.
It is not solely the Paralegal Standing Committee’s (PSC) responsibility to ensure professionalism; that responsibility lies within our adherence to the Rules of Professional Conduct. PSC involvement in Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) committees and group initiatives maintain the highest standards of the profession. It is integral to promoting and encouraging individual members’ commitments to the highest level of professionalism.
This encouragement is paramount to the paralegal profession and its future. Individual responsibility to the profession means rolling up our sleeves and working together, as a whole, in the public interest.
Supporting and caring for one another through mentorship initiatives is one way to encourage professionalism. Mentoring one another individually means sharing our experience and knowledge, in the evolving landscape of the profession. We owe a duty to our colleagues to offer support whether formally through LSUC programs, or informally by supporting one another. This fosters collegiality within the profession and serves us collectively, making for a more united and cohesive body.
Professional competency is the cornerstone of any profession and is achieved in part through Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements. CPD requirements contribute to the highest standards in our profession. It stands up to public scrutiny. Public confidence in our profession cannot be achieved without adhering to the basic tenets of trustworthiness and co-operation.
The way we comport ourselves in and out of the courtroom, and with each other, is the true measure of professionalism. Raising public confidence is the responsibility of us all. I believe the overwhelming majority in our profession, on a daily basis, live up to their professional and personal responsibilities.
AS PROFESSIONALS, we have a duty to report unbecoming behaviour, and our own professional failings. LSUC can and will investigate (and discipline), where necessary.
AS PROFESSIONALS, we must objectively look at our governing body, to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities. This is how public confidence and respect develop, so that the future of our profession is secure and bright.
Learn more about Paula Callaghan
I believe that, for the most part, paralegals are living up to the standards expected of us with respect to professional and personal ethics.
However, like every profession, there will be members who do not govern themselves appropriately. When this happens, it is up to each one of us to address the behaviour, either by discussing the issues with the individual member, assisting them in dealing with their situation, and/or reporting the behaviour to our governing body.
As a member of the PSC, I believe it is my responsibility to act in a way that does not discredit or tarnish the reputation of myself, the Law Society, the judicial system or the paralegal profession. As a member of the PSC, I am responsible for making sure that our profession is governed in the best interest of the public.
I am also required to assist in the regulation of our profession by participating in parts of the discipline process of licensees when complaints are filed. It would be impossible for me to properly conduct my role as a member of the PSC if I personally could not live up to the standards set out for this profession.
Professionalism and ethical conduct are necessarily complementary. One speaks to expertise and the other to character. In the paralegal profession one must be accompanied by the other.
It is difficult to imagine how the PSC, alone, can instill those qualities in the unreceptive.
The Rules of Professional Conduct go a long way towards ensuring the safety and the respect of the general public; but, they are meaningless to anyone who does not already have their own code of ethics or moral compass.
Our need to maintain the public trust is of paramount importance. Each of us depends on that trust and each of us is required to safeguard it. As a result, we are each dependent on the other for the success of our practices and careers.
We now have a recognised profession because, in the decades prior to legislation, the vast majority of paralegals carried on business in a professional, trustworthy manner and the public interest was protected.
The advent of regulation brought closer inspection of each of our practices, and the necessity for diligent attention to detail on the part of each licensee, not only for their own protection, but also for the protection of the entire profession.
It is the responsibility of each paralegal, not just the Paralegal Standing Committee, to look out for and report unprofessional or unlawful conduct by other paralegals.
It is grossly irresponsible to ignore any ethical or legal breach, especially when our profession is in its infancy and is closely watched by a considerable number of critics who may not have our best interest at heart.
It is clear that the greatest challenge to ethics comes from an all-consuming desire for money.
We must remember that we are in the “service” business and must remain focused on the quality of service we provide to the system of justice and to the citizens. This includes paying attention to proficiency through continuing education.
Money is the by-product of a successful business and should not be its primary focus.
Learn more about Brian Lawrie
Professionalism is knowing how to do it, when to do it, and ultimately, doing it, well! I believe it’s not the job you do, but rather, how you do the job. It’s important to be professional if you want to have a successful career and to set standards within our field.
Through a combination of observations and osmosis, whether for yourself or a mentor, there are standard expectations to always being professional. These include: courtesy; punctuality; maintaining confidentiality; fairness; consideration; acceptance of constructive criticism; gentle offerings of feedback; heightened listening skills; recognizing errors and misunderstandings; speaking clearly; being understood; incorporating honesty, integrity, respectfulness; avoiding personal bias; having an unbending commitment to quality, and continuous improvement of personal development, along with a willingness to share; and pride.
Encouragement and networking for all paralegal professionals, referring when you are not the best possibility, and a willingness to change, grow and learn, are essential to our profession.
A professional literally means: “relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill, as characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession”.
When licensed paralegals are practising in a professional capacity, we coalesce to form a professional body. Professional associations provide oversight for our disciplines and represent the interests of our practitioners. Actions speak louder than words, but not nearly as often!
Having a backbone beats a wishbone, in my professional book! No rules for success will work, if you don’t. We do not need to be shoemakers, to know if our shoes fit. Being true to ourselves is a step in the right direction.
Consistency, continuing to assure a general level of expertise to maintain, is paramount. Staying true, and standing up for our beliefs, ethics, and morality, is a system of principles that helps us tell right from wrong, good from bad. Ethics give us a practical guidance to our professional lives, involving self-motivation and the quest for a rational system of principles, continuing to define and achieve our ever-improving character, and standards by which paralegals can continue to advance.
I believe that as an overall group, paralegals are acting professionally; as individuals, some more than others. In order to elevate the level of professionalism, it is necessary to report those who are failing to meet an acceptable standard.
The Paralegal Rules of Professional Conduct are specific in addressing the individual licensee’s responsibilities for their own conduct, as well as the conduct towards each other, our clients, etc. There are requirements for licensees to report inappropriate, unethical and unprofessional conduct.
Having to report a colleague to the Law Society of Upper Canada can seem to be a drastic measure. This can be a difficult position for a licensee. There can be a multitude of reasons for an indiscretion. One must determine if one particular incident is severe enough to warrant being reported, or whether it is a pattern of behaviours that triggers action to be taken. Professional discretion must be used to ensure the reporting system itself is not used for vexatious purposes.
So when paralegals are not acting professionally, the question becomes: why?
I believe the answers are found entangled with many of the other issues that are being discussed in our community: 1) Education 2) Placements / mentorship 3) Competency
1) Are the areas of ethics and professionalism appropriately taught in the accredited programs?
- – Not merely a review of the Rules and By-Laws.
2) Are the placements addressing professional behaviour, civility and ethics?
- – Modelling and discussion of appropriate expectations.
3) Are lacking competencies affecting professional standards?
- – Acting within an area not sufficiently trained or acting outside of the scope of practice.
As a member of the Paralegal Standing Committee, these are all issues that I would take into consideration as the committee and sub-committees carry out their responsibilities.
I would be interested to learn if there are trends or patterns identified by the disciplinary committee and practice audits, as to what the greatest areas of deficiencies are. With this information, preventative measures can be instituted where necessary.
We can ensure that paralegals in all areas of the province have access to an Employee Assistance Program equivalent for support, and are aware of the support available.
I am a proud paralegal professional. As a member of the PSC, I will do my best to ensure our profession continues to rise to the challenges.
A legal professional “. . . accepts individual responsibility for personal ethics but also a collective responsibility for ensuring that the profession as a whole discharges its role appropriately and ethically.”
”Elements of Professionalism,” Chief Justice of Ontario Advisory Committee on Professionalism
Are paralegals living up to this standard? What can the paralegal PSC members do, to encourage professionalism?
I believe it is every paralegal’s responsibility to act with professionalism at all times. Whether you are in court, meeting with a client, or on personal time, you never know who might be watching and forming an opinion about the paralegal profession.
Paralegals need to set an example for the public and judiciary, showing that we are a respected profession. I believe this is the best way to enhance and promote our profession.
As members of the PSC, we have the role as an adjudicator in discipline hearings to ensure that all members of the public are protected from paralegals who have behaved in a manner not in accordance with our Rules of Conduct. Even though the numbers of paralegals licenced each year has increased, the number of discipline hearings have not. Therefore I would conclude that paralegals are living up to a high standard of professionalism.
The PSC members should be active in mentoring students and new licensees, to help encourage professionalism. CPD courses are another way to help develop professionalism.
When you are voting to select the five members of the PSC, be sure the members you vote for show good examples of professionalism. Let’s have a team that will work to enhance our profession.
Convocation functions as the LSUC “board of directors.” What business and personal experiences will allow you to be effective on a large board?
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