Paralegal Reena Basser, B.A., M.A., is a professor at Humber and Seneca colleges, in their legal programs. Basser has hosted three placement students. She shares her experiences and explains why this component of licensing is both challenging and rewarding.
The first time a student first contacted me about completing his placement hours with me, I was nervous — even doubly nervous.
A paralegal student looking for a placement visited me and asked to have his placement with me. I was reluctant. Could I give this student an enriching, interesting, helpful placement? Did I have the right work? And I thought back to my own placement: it was interesting, fun, awful, too hard, too easy, tedious, wonderful, and all in all, uneven. I suspect that all placements are wildly uneven. And that’s OK.
My one-person paralegal office, located in North York, is small. I do all kinds of paralegal work, including all my own bookkeeping, marketing, filing in court, filing in my beloved filing cabinet, sweeping. In short, I am my everything.
Students Learn by Doing
So far, I have hosted three placement students. My first was excellent, my second wonderful and my third, really helpful. Each student comes with his or her own strengths and interests. Because I have a small firm, imbued with flexibility, each student can learn a myriad of tasks, a cornucopia of jobs, and can learn from them all.
The fact is, I have a small office, and many clients. To date, all my clients have allowed my students to sit in and listen to their cases. One client even looked at me and, with a sparkle in his eye, said, “Why don’t you let your student ask the questions? That way, she’ll learn!”
Well, that was a great suggestion. I asked the student to lead the interview and ask the questions for the next client. Although she refused, I encouraged her to do the intake information. Small steps, big education!
Practical Practicum for Paralegal Students
My office is too small to give the placement student a desk. I do have a conference room where they can work periodically, but generally, they work at home doing research, are on the road, or filing small claims material, and doing many other aspects of running an office.
When the twenty-fifth of the month comes around, and I work on my “trust bank reconciliation,” they watch, they learn, and they help me read out the new clients and all other matters crucial to bookkeeping. When research and thinking need to be done, I work out my thoughts with them. They help me work out my ideas logically, and many times they offer suggestions that are helpful.
It is my turn to learn about the role of the student. I recently learned that a student may represent a client in the POA courts, pursuant to the Law Society Act, By-Law 4, section 34.1, if certain conditions are met under that By-Law.
Section 34.1 covers paralegal placement students. It states, in part:
A student enrolled in an accredited program and completing
a field placement approved by the educational institution
offering the program, may, without a licence, provide legal
services in Ontario.
This means the placement student can go to court, represent the client, learn the procedures of court, and help the paralegal host. My student has attended court, resolved matters and has been a help in that way as well.
All in all, I have had excellent, enriching experiences from my students. I recommend highly that other paralegals host paralegal placement students. I am reminded of a quote in a book about wisdom: “What is wisdom? It is the person who can learn from others.” So I have. And so I hope my students have learned from me, as well.
The Law Society of Upper Canada requires that paralegal Candidates complete a minimum of 120 hours of field placement. Colleges may have their own placement requirements for graduation.
Information about the placement requirement for licensing, is available from LSUC.
Reena Basser operates Reena Basser and Associates in Toronto.
Contact her at: 647-210-1775