Ontario Law Society Quandry: Does Disbarred or Suspended Attorney Have the “Good Character” to be a Paralegal?

One aspect of the Ontario experiement in licensing paralegals that I posted about favorably here is the “good character assessment.” Commenting on an unusual case before a Law Society Appeal Panel, I noted,

The scary part is that there is nothing to prevent our own Nics from calling themselves paralegals here in the United States. We are hopeful that UPL laws will prevent them from operating independently, but depend on law firms to do the character assessment and background checks to keep Nic and his ilk out of the legal system. Unfortunately, this procedure all too often fails. Indeed, some paralegals are so un-reviewed and unsupervised that they are able to embezzle huge sums from the law firms themselves. One managed to grab $1.7 million before being caught!

Indeed, there is a concern that persons found unfit to be an attorney could become paralegals under our system, a concern I addressed in “If he smells bad there, he’ll smell bad here.” As noted in that post, it seemed that a paralegal licensing program that included a good character assessment would prevent corrupt attorneys from becoming paralegals after disbarment.

A recent article in the Law Times though makes it clear that not just any licensing regulations will do:

The Paralegal Society of Ontario says it’s “seriously concerned” about Law Society of Upper Canada regulations allowing disbarred and suspended lawyers to apply for paralegal licences, an issue that culminated in Mississauga, Ont., lawyer David Robert Conway’s successful appeal of his disbarment this month.

“As an organization, we’ve made it perfectly clear to the law society that we highly object to a lawyer applying to serve as a paralegal when they’ve been suspended or disbarred,” says Janet Wigle-Vence, treasurer of the paralegal society.

According to Wigle-Vence, while paralegals serve clients in a limited scope compared to lawyers, the regulator should hold both types of practitioners to a similar standard of character.

“If they can’t pass the test to serve as a lawyer, it doesn’t make sense that they would be allowed to serve as a paralegal,” she adds.

The problem lies in the particular way the regulations are written. They include “grandfather” and hearing provisions that do allow disbarred attorneys to have a hearing on a paralegal license application which could, in theory, find that they do not have the “good character” to be an attorney, but do have the “good character” necessary to be a paralegal!

The article implies, however, that this is more of a theorectical problem than a practical problem, noting through a statement by Harry Kopyto, himself a disbarred attorney, a subject of posts on this blog, and occasional communicator with this blog, few attorneys have been successful in taking this route back into legal practice precisely because of the good character requirement. Nonetheless, it seems odd that this would even be an option. The regulations should make it clear that disbarment or suspension as an attorney is itself sufficient indication that the applicant lacks the good character required to be a licensed paralegal.

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