Paralegal Good Character in Canada

The Law Society of Upper Canada regulates the lawyers and paralegals of Ontario and is charge with ensuring that all licensed paralegals in Ontario meet standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct that are appropriate for the legal services provided. One recent case that I may discuss more fully in another post discusses the character of an applicant for a paralegal license because of “the good character requirements set out in s. 27(2) of the Law Society Act and By-Law 4, s. 8(1) 3.”

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In The Empowered Paralegal I discuss character traits such as trustworthiness, reliability, work ethic, and honesty as they relate to professionalism. The decision of the Law Society panel in the matter of Nicolino Alessandro provides a formal definition of “good character” and the role it plays in the decision on whether to grant a license which I reprint here for your consideration as professionals:

Good character has been defined as follows.

[33] In Re Spicer, supra, at p.5-6, para. 15 (Tab 2, Book of Authorities):

Convocation accepts that character is that combination of qualities or features distinguishing one person from another. Good character connotes moral or ethical strength, distinguishable as an amalgam of virtuous attributes or traits which undoubtedly include, among others, integrity, candour, empathy, and honesty.

[34] In the article by Mary F. Southin, Q.C., What is “Good Character”, (1987) 35 The Advocate 129 (Tab 3, Book of Authorities) she states at p. 129:

Character within the Act comprises in my opinion at least these qualities:

1. An appreciation of the difference between right and wrong;

2. The moral fibre to do that which is right, no matter how uncomfortable the doing may be and not to do that which is wrong no matter what the consequences may be to oneself;

3. A belief that the law at least so far as it forbids things which are malum in se must be upheld and the courage to see that it is upheld.

[35] In Re Preya, supra, at p. 6:

The definition of good character is set out in previous decisions of Law Society admissions panels, and is an evolving definition. The definition is not exhaustive, and refers to a bundle of attributes which, when taken together, amount to good character:

Character is that combination of qualities or features distinguishing one person from another. Good character connotes moral or ethical strength, distinguishable as an amalgam of virtuous attributes or traits which would include, among others, integrity, candour, empathy and honesty.

[36] The purpose of the good character requirement is enunciated in Gavin McKenzie’s text, Lawyers and Ethics: Professional Responsibility and Discipline, Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 1993, at para. 23.2 (Tab 4, Book of Authorities):

The purposes of the good character requirement are the same as the purposes of professional discipline: to protect the public, to maintain high ethical standards, to maintain public confidence in the legal profession and its ability to regulate itself, and to deal fairly with persons whose livelihood and reputation are affected.

This, of course, does not definitively answer the question of how the purposes of a good character requirement are best met, i.e., by separate licensing requirements for paralegals or continuation of the present system of requiring attorney supervision. However, it does clarify what the issues are. It is one of the many ways in which it is helpful for those of us in the United States to watch and learn from the Ontario experiment.

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