Paralegals as Answer to Access to Justice Issue in Ontario

The Law Society of Upper Canada continues to consider changes in its experiment of paralegal licensure and regulation to assist in remediating access to justice issues. At the moment there is controversy brewing because the LSUC is beginning its discussion of expanding the scope of permitted paralegal activity based on “a decade-old report that backed paralegal calls to practise in that area as the basis for a promised review of the scope of their practice.”

Here’s some of the back-and-forth as reported by Law Times:

Marshall Yarmus, the paralegal whose motion at the annual general meeting last year sparked the commitment to a review, says Cory’s report is a “good starting point.”

“In terms of family law, we’re looking for things beyond what he suggested because paralegals used to be allowed to make appearances in the family court for certain matters,” he says.

“But at least it also addresses other issues like wills, real estate, and other areas of law where paralegals are not currently allowed to practise and [that] he recommended.”

Chris Surowiak, president of the Paralegal Society of Ontario, welcomes the law society’s action on the scope of paralegal practice.

“The public needs assistance within many aspects involving family law and the public can only benefit in using the professional services of a paralegal in this area,” he says. “Expanding our scope of practice can be a win-win for lawyers, paralegals, and ultimately the public.”

But Cynthia Mancia, co-chairwoman of the Family Lawyers Association, isn’t so sure.
“The biggest underlying theme of justice Cory’s [report] was access to justice, and I think it’s a mistake to equate expanding the use of paralegals as an answer to the existing well-documented access-to-justice [issues] that exist,” she says.

“There is a perception out there that paralegals can provide the same services that lawyers provide but more cheaply. The fear family lawyers have is that that perception isn’t grounded in reality.”

I’m somewhat biased on this as I’ve been arguing for quite some time that paralegals should have an expanded role in plugging the access-to-justice gap.  So it may be no surprise that I take issue with Mancia’s characterization.  It seems to me that it is quite correct to equate expanded paralegal actions with an answer to access to justice issues.  The issue is not whether paralegals can provide the same service as attorneys. They cannot. However, there is no reason paralegals can’t provide some services now provided by attorneys at a lower cost thereby expanding access to justice for those who cannot currently afford any representation.

 The position of attorneys who oppose this type of role for properly educated, licensed, and regulated paralegals are contending that somehow people lacking any legal training at all who cannot afford an attorney are better off confronting the legal system on their own. This position is counterintuitive and I strongly suspect they cannot provide any data to back up the claim.

For more on these issues check out  the “Canada” and “Access to Justice” categories.

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