Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Licence To Bill

Hiring a paralegal is often a hit-or-miss proposition because there haven't been any effective licensing or educational requirements for them.

Many have some sort of legal training as law clerks, even as lawyers, and can do the grunt work more quickly and cheaply than most lawyers. More than a few are fly-by-nighters who can't tell a judgment from a verdict but will gladly charge you hundreds of dollars to confuse you about the difference.

But both groups of paralegals, good and bad, can mess up or rip off clients who have little recourse because they have no regulatory body to oversee them, and often, no professional liability insurance to cover them.

So now the Law Society of Upper Canada is stepping in to regulate paralegals:

Bill 14 will regulate paralegals for the first time in Canada. The omnibus legislation, designed to increase access to justice, passed second reading last week and is expected to go to public hearings soon.

Few, including paralegals themselves, disagree with the idea the profession needs regulating. But not everyone thinks the government's legislation has it quite right.

Some lawyers think it doesn't make a clear distinction between paralegals and lawyers, leaving people vulnerable to being taken advantage of by paralegals.

Some paralegals think the legislation's design will drive them out of business, leaving people with no choice but to use higher-priced lawyers.

The legislation lays out the broad plan to regulate the industry but leaves most of the detail, such as defining the legal services paralegals can perform and the educational standards they'll have to meet, to the Law Society of Upper Canada, the governing body for Ontario lawyers.


But the legislation doesn't use the word paralegal, talking instead of people licensed to "provide legal services." Lawyers are licensed to "practice law."

The difference is simple enough to explain even if the wording of the legislation is rather vague.

One may provide legal services, such as notarizing documents or drafting a plaintiff's claim in small claims court, without actually providing the client an opinion about the law. Law clerks do all this sort of paperwork all the time in law offices--and believe me, they're the ones who keep law offices organized and working smoothly.

But a lawyer's responsibility is to advise his client about the law itself, and how it applies to the facts in the client's matter.

Think of it in terms of the difference between the physician who examines and diagnoses, and the nurse who handles the patient care in hospital.

And ask yourself if you would want nurses to be unregulated and able to practice with no professional qualifications or training whatsoever.

Regulating paralegals will not drive them out of business, or put lawyers out of business, any more than nurses do to physicians. They're both necessary to the legal profession and should be governed accordingly.

Source: Toronto Star

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