If you’re not sure exactly what a paralegal is or does, you’re not alone! In this post we aim to answer some common questions about licensed paralegals in Ontario– read on, and if you have more questions send us a note or a comment!
The term paralegal has been around for a long time, and is still used in many different ways. In 2007 paralegals in Ontario became subject to licensing by the Law Society of Upper Canada, now the Law Society of Ontario – the same body that regulates lawyers in the province. Since then only licensed paralegals are permitted to provide legal services and appear in Court and before most Boards and Tribunals. The term still persists in common usage and sometimes refers to a person who performs clerical duties related to legal proceedings, however only licensed paralegals are legally permitted to provide legal services. It is still common in other jurisdictions for legal assistants or law clerks who work for lawyers to be referred to as paralegals.
ARE PARALEGALS REGULATED?
Yes, paralegals in Ontario are regulated by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO), the same body that regulates lawyers. Licensed paralegals must graduate from an accredited educational institution in Ontario and complete the licensing process, including licensing examinations and a field placement. All practicing paralegals most hold an up-to-date license with the LSO and complete annual Continuing Professional Development hours to keep their knowledge and skills up to date. Paralegals are required to maintain Professional Liability/Errors and Omissions insurance for consumer protection. The LSO also provides an ethical and professional framework that paralegals must adhere to and will investigate any ethical complaints or concerns regarding practicing paralegals. In summary, paralegals are regulated just as strictly as lawyers!
WHAT CAN PARALEGALS DO?
While lawyers have an unlimited scope of practice, paralegals are restricted to certain authorized areas of practice. These include representing clients:
- in Small Claims Court
- in the Ontario Court of Justice under the Provincial Offences Act
- on summary conviction offences under the Criminal Code where the maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine OR six months in jail
- before administrative tribunals such as the Landlord Tenant Board
Paralegals are Commissioners of Oaths or Commissioners for taking Affidavits and are able to commission documents that need to be sworn in front of a commissioner. Visit our Commissioner of Oaths Page to book your appointment.
Unfortunately there are some common areas of law that are restricted to lawyers. These currently include all areas of family law, drafting wills, preparing powers of attorney, and real estate transactions. Recently, the LSO voted in favour of expanding the scope of paralegal practice to include family law in the coming years, demonstrating the increasing need and relevance of paralegals in our society.
At Carr Paralegal we specialize in Small Claims Court and Landlord Tenant Board cases.
Small Claims Court
Paralegals can represent clients in Small Claims Court, which has a monetary jurisdiction of $25,000. This means that your claim must not exceed $25,000 in monetary damages or value of property to be heard in the Small Claims Court. Many individuals choose to represent themselves, however they frequently find the process intimidating and confusing and often turn to a legal professional for assistance at some point in the process. Many parties find it difficult or impossible to separate emotion from the proceedings, making it difficult to effectively present their case to the Judge. In addition to providing legal advice and assistance, a paralegal provides a buffer between you and the other party. This helps to mitigate an immensely stressful and emotional process and can greatly increase the chance of reaching a settlement.
Landlord Tenant Board
Paralegals are also able to represent clients in front of the Landlord Tenant Board. This tribunal oversees landlord and tenant disputes arising from breaches of the Residential Tenancies Act, which governs the rights and responsibilities of residential landlords and tenants in Ontario. If you are renting a unit and your landlord is attempting to evict you or has violated your rights as a tenant, a paralegal can bring your case to the Landlord Tenant Board. Alternatively, if you are a landlord who has issues with a tenant, a paralegal can advise you on the best course of action to solve the problem. In some cases, if you have retained a legal representative you may not need to take time away from your regular day to attend the proceedings.
WHY CHOOSE A PARALEGAL INSTEAD OF A LAWYER?
The two most compelling reasons for choosing a paralegal instead of a lawyer are price and specialization.
Lawyers generally charge an hourly fee which can easily reach $300-$400 per hour. At Carr Paralegal we frequently hear from clients who have initially contacted a lawyer and been advised that a paralegal would be a more cost-effective means to achieve the same success. In addition to lower fees, paralegals, frequently offer customized plans referred to as unbundled services to allow clients to take on some portions of case preparation themselves and pay only for the services they need.
Lower costs for paralegal representation is an important factor in increasing access to justice for Ontarians.
Because paralegals have a limited scope of practice, they often have specialized practices and are more experienced and familiar with the types of law they practice than a lawyer with a general practice. While a lawyer is licensed to appear in the Small Claims Court or the Landlord Tenant Board, they may not ever have taken on such as case.
Additionally, many legal scholars argue that today’s lawyers are trained with a focus on trial advocacy and interrogation skills. Paralegals, on the other hand, are highly trained in mediation, negotiation, and settlement techniques, with the purpose of avoiding the lengthy and expensive process of trial. Many clients assume that they will need to go to trial to get their desired outcome. However, the same outcome can often be achieved more quickly through mediation or settlement negotiations, resulting in lower legal fees and a higher net recovery.
ABOUT CARR PARALEGAL
If you have legal needs related to Small Claims Court or Landlord Tenant matters – or aren’t sure if a paralegal can help, we encourage you to reach out to our office – it’s always free to call! At Carr Paralegal, we provide a 45 minute initial consultation for a fee of $150. In this consultation, we will work together with a holistic approach to determine what is best for you in your situation taking into account both the legal aspects of your case and your personal situation and goals. The initial consultation includes a written summary of your options and the beginning of draft document as time allows, reducing fees for subsequent steps in the legal process.
Getting legal representation should be a help, not a hassle. Our office is wheelchair accessible, however if attending our office presents a challenge, we are privileged to meet you at a location suitable for you. We recognize that many of our clients cannot take time away from their employment responsibilities during the day and are happy to arrange flexible appointments to suit your needs.