Currently, paralegals are regulated in Ontario, but the legal areas in which they can practice are quite restricted. Paralegals were to submit a motion to expand their legal roles at the 2013 Annual General Meeting of the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), the organisation that regulates both lawyers and paralegals, but it was discarded at the last minute in the midst of a growing controversy that the proposal created. Despite this, the potential expansion of areas in which paralegals can practice is bound to come up again in Ontario.
It is no coincidence that Jessica Prince and Rory Gillis, two lawyers who wrote an article in the Globe and Mail last November arguing for an expansion of the legal areas in which paralegals should be allowed to practice, are volunteers at a low-income legal assistance clinic. Expanding the legal role of paralegals can only benefit the access-to-justice crisis plaguing Canada, and more specifically in this case, Ontario.
Further penetrating the monopoly that lawyers hold over providing legal services is one step in making the law and the courts more accessible to the average Canadian. Paralegals, who go through more practical training in less time, are in a perfect position to offer legal services at a reduced fee compared to lawyers, allowing more people to access the legal help they desperately need.
Preventing the expansion of legal services that can be provided by paralegals does not protect the public as this article suggests, rather, it perpetuates the on-going violation of the public’s right to access affordable legal services. Legitimate concerns about training and qualifications of paralegals can be addressed through educational and training requirements, and I invite lawyers who are so concerned by this issue to get involved with LSUC in administering and designing these requirements.
This point of view may seem strange coming from a (hopefully) soon-to-be lawyer, but my experience as a summer student with the criminal duty counsel team in Brampton Ontario as well as my experience at the Immigrant Worker’s Centre and the Mile End Legal Clinic in Montreal have shown me just how exorbitant the fees of certain lawyers can be for services which directly impact an individual’s well-being.
When we are talking about whether or not someone gets to remain in Canada or be deported, whether someone faces months of jail time or a suspended sentence or whether someone gets access to their children, it is crucial that legal services are affordable and accessible. In a society where the individuals involved in crucial legal decisions such as these often have no legal assistance whatsoever because they cannot afford a lawyer, increasing the roles of paralegals is a viable way to address this problem.
If expanding the role of paralegals in our legal system isn’t the way to go, then what are some alternative solutions to the access-to-justice crisis we are currently facing? Until this question is addressed, I honestly have no more patience to listen to the flat-out rejection of increasing paralegals’ legal roles in Ontario.