Top-10: Paralegal News From 2013

Photo: Steven Depolo

Photo: Steven Depolo

With six years of regulation under our belts, every year is a big year for Ontario’s 5,000 or so paralegals. Still, 2013 is a stand-out, when it comes to significant events. Court decisions, association realignment, legislative changes and governance issues had immediate effects on the profession.

While it was difficult to narrow down just 10 paralegal news stories, the good news is: it was difficult to choose only 10, from the wide range of news available. This time last year, no such list was possible, because no one was covering paralegal issues in a dedicated and journalistic way.

These are the 2013 events that had, or will have, the greatest impact on paralegals, caused the most stir, and will be go down in paralegal history:

 

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CPD Requirement Revised, New Provider Approved

The Law Society announced changes to the CPD Requirement for paralegals, in June.

More writing activities qualify. Effective next May 30, co-writing and co-editing will be eligible for CPD Hours. Writing and editing for firm or other in-house publications or blogs qualify, if they are not primarily for advertising.

Accreditation Criteria for Professionalism Hours rolled-in in September, including an Accredited Provider Framework, to streamline the approval of professionalism programming. The Law Society will introduce a simplified reporting process, and eliminate the separate New Member Requirement, among other changes.

In July, a new provider began offering courses, approved for CPD Hours, on a range of subjects within the scope of practice.

 
 

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Scope of Practice Motion at the LSUC AGM

The Law Society has proposed eliminating the practice of motions made from the floor, during the Annual General Meeting (AGM). These are a sort of quaint hold-over from the days when lawyers had fewer ways to communicate their views and make entreaties to the Law Society. But last spring, the long-standing practice was employed by a group of paralegals, to bring the issue of scope of practice expansion front and centre.

While the motion was withdrawn before the meeting, lawyers and paralegals spoke to the issue. The result was a tense, contentious session, with some lawyers complaining about paralegals, and paralegals asking for greater respect from their fellow licensees.

 

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Paralegal Licensing Plans Moving Forward Across Canada

Law societies in British Columbia and Quebec are looking to the Ontario licensing model, with a view to licensing the profession in their jurisdictions.

In B.C., paralegals will come under the same regulatory umbrella as lawyers. B.C. is looking to the experience of Ontario and Alberta in licensing paralegal service providers. In Alberta, paralegals are not licensed by the law society. They work independently, under supervision of a lawyer or judge.

Quebec is considering its own licensing scheme. Nov. 18, the Quebec Association of Paralegals (QAP) met with the Comité sur les techniciens juridiques du Barreau du Québec (the regulator’s paralegal committee) and officially asked to be recognized. Manitoba has its own paralegal accreditation system.

 

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Access to Justice Initiatives Bring Licensees Together

Several reports and initiatives point to the need for reforms that would increase access to justice in civil, legal and family law for low-income Canadians. These include affirmation of paralegals, as keys to relieve pressure on an inaccessible justice system.

The Canadian Bar Association, and other law-related groups have released access to justice reports that suggest paralegals have a crucial role to play in bringing legal services to more Canadians.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell told the Law Society in June that change is on the horizon. Justice Cromwell chairs the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlan and LSUC Treaurer Tom Conway have made access to justice keystone issues under their leadership.

A July report on self-represented litigants found that better use of paralegals could increase access to justice for Canadians who would otherwise be unrepresented in legal matters. The report offers specific ways in which legal services providers can offer services that meet the needs of those now self-represent.

 

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Superior Court Decision – Sitting Past the Bar/Officers of the Court

In June, the Superior Court of Justice dismissed an application from a paralegal, with regard to being allowed to sit past the bar.

 

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Provincial Statute Updates

Legislative amendments and acts passed by the provincial legislature represent steps forward — and steps sideways.

Paralegals became Commissioners of Oaths July 1. The Solicitors’ Act has been updated to, among other things, officially permit paralegals to charge a fee for legal services, and increase the number of paralegal benchers, from two to five.

Small Claims legislation amendments will restrict the ability of non-licensees to appear in that court.

Updating the Co-operative Housing Act , Residential Tenancies Act and Co-operative Corporations Act will allow co-ops to apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board to resolve disputes. This means more business for paralegals who practise in this area.

On the other hand, the “Stronger Protection for Ontario Consumers Act 2013passed third reading without an amendment to exclude paralegals, despite efforts from paralegals and their associations to make that change. The Morris Report on the first five years of paralegal licensing had called for legislative housekeeping changes, to update the language in statutes, when an exclusion “cannot be justified in the interest of facilitating access to justice, or protecting the public interest.”

Attorney General John Gerretsen told a paralegal gathering in December that change will come, but it will not happen overnight.

 

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Immigration Regulation Process Streamlining

LSUC and ICCRC worked together to make it easier for paralegals to provide a full range of Immigration and Refugee services. The streamlined admissions process affects licensed paralegals who want to become Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants. Earlier, LSUC had succeeded in having paralegals permitted to represent clients at Immigration and Refugee Board hearings.

The August announcement led to a flare-up of renewed sentiments about scope of practice restrictions.

 

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Paralegal Professional Organization Changes

In July, two existing organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding to amalgamate, and a new organization for women paralegals came on the scene.

 

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Bilinski decision

This is a “sleeper” decision, more important for what it foreshadows than for what it says.

At issue in the Superior Court appeal: whether clients who pay less for paralegal services deserve a lesser standard of competency than they would from a lawyer. Bilinski sets the stage for future competency challenges. It notes that mandatory education, the CPD Requirement, and concentration of paralegals within certain legal fields, will be considerations when — not if — competency is again challenged.

 

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Paralegal SCOPE Magazine Starts Publishing Online

April 7 marked the first online publication of SCOPE. Weeks of planning, writing, second-guessing, testing and wrestling with content management issues went into that first publication.

There were many reasons NOT to publish SCOPE. But those were outweighed by a deep need, both within myself and within the profession. There was nowhere to get my own paralegal-specific articles published, nowhere for colleagues to send their own work, to be seen by other P1s. Nowhere to get plain-language news and up-to-date information on events, legislative changes, and scope-related case law summaries.

So, I took a deep breath, then blended writing, reporting and technical communication experience with an unquenchable interest in legal issues, and just plowed ahead.

More than 500 articles later, SCOPE has secured its position as the go-to source when paralegals need information. SCOPE gives legal professionals and the public access to legal information, governance news, announcements, and well-written articles from dozens of their colleagues. Breaking news, in-depth features, links to case law, Convocation coverage, licensing issues, practice management tips, resources, quizzes, glossaries — these have secured SCOPE a hard-earned place among online legal magazines.

SCOPE continues to grow, in readership and contributions from licensees at all stages of their professional lives. Submissions, suggestions, critiques, along with moral and tangible support, keep this publication available.

 

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