As paralegals seek a broader scope of practice and a larger role within the legal profession, the Law Society of Upper Canada is increasing the number of paralegal benchers at Convocation to five from two.
“With the experience of five years of paralegal regulation by the law society, the time has come to revisit the original structure for electing paralegal benchers and the number of elected paralegal benchers,” a motion approved at Convocation on April 25 stated.
“Both the reports mandated by the five-year statutory review of paralegal regulation — the law society’s report and the report of David Morris, the independent reviewer — raised the issue of the appropriate structure of Convocation as it relates to paralegals,” the report noted.
Bencher Julian Falconer called the decision “a no-brainer.”
“I wanted to reflect on this but frankly I was struck by how much, with respect, a no-brainer this is,” he said, adding that paralegal members at Convocation make an “incredible contribution . . . to our process and to our credibility.”
The news was music to the ears of the paralegal community. “I think we’re an integral part of the law society and it’s good to be recognized as having a voice,” says Toronto paralegal Marian Lippa. “I’m all for it.”
For John Tzanis, president of the Paralegal Society of Ontario, the decision should have come sooner. “I blame democracy,” says Tzanis jokingly. “There shouldn’t be any governance without representation. If there are 40,000 lawyers and 5,000 paralegals, we should have five [seats at Convocation].”
The motion passed the same day the law society considered a report on its progress on the recommendations made by Morris. One of them that’s currently the subject of a heated debate in the legal community is the expansion of the scope of paralegal practice following additional training.
When it comes to reviewing its training and examination regime, the law society says a plan is now in development. The review will consider the question of adding rigour to the college education curriculum to ensure paralegals come out of school with new competencies.
But that’s not exactly how some paralegals envision an expansion of the scope of their practice, says Tzanis. The process of going through a change of curriculum and producing new graduates with a broader scope of practice would take too long, he argues. “We’re looking at five years before we can get paralegals with expanded practice. For many, that’s too long.”
The plan also doesn’t address paralegals who are already out of school, Tzanis adds.
But although many paralegals are seeking an expanded scope, they don’t necessarily agree on how to do it. “When the scope of practice is expanded, the law society should increase the level of education and the length of education” for paralegals, says Lippa.
“Something that I’m seeing in the criminal courts is a level of disdain from the judiciary because the paralegals that are coming before the criminal court are appearing not prepared enough with a broader understanding of all aspects of the criminal law.”
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