At a Glance
Lawyers are supported in their work by a number of other individuals. Paralegals (also called “Law Clerks”) provide assistance to lawyers and their clients through their expertise in representing clients, research, drafting documents and managing cases. Lawyers often depend on Paralegals when preparing their cases. In some provinces, Paralegals are also qualified to represent clients in court.
The Work of a Paralegal
Paralegals have the knowledge and skills that make them an invaluable part of the legal system. Individuals using the services of a Paralegal benefit greatly from their skills in providing legal advice, conducting research, managing cases and drafting legal documents.
Representing clients and providing legal advice
In some provinces, including Ontario, Paralegals can provide legal advice and may even be able to represent clients in court. However, not all Paralegals can do so. For example, in Manitoba, Alberta and New Brunswick, Paralegals cannot have their own practice nor appear before the courts. In British Columbia, a committee of the province’s law society is currently examining the kinds of legal services Paralegals may provide in that province.
Paralegals in independent practice are nonetheless restricted in terms of the areas of law they can practice and the types of courts and tribunals they may appear before. For example, they can represent clients in small claims court (court that hear cases where the claim is for $25,000 or less, depending on the province) and even defend individuals charged with minor criminal offences. However, they are not permitted to represent clients in family court. To learn more about the types of legal services Paralegals can provide, visit The Law Society of Upper Canada website.
Paralegals can provide legal advice and assist in negotiations
Since Paralegals in Ontario can provide legal advice, they must have liability insurance. They must also comply with a professional code of conduct.
Research is an essential part of a lawyer’s work. Unless they have a very specialized practice, lawyers and their team members have to do research for each new case. Paralegals must also conduct research in order to represent their clients or the clients of the lawyer they work with. They must:
- Determine which laws will provide protection for their clients;
- Find judgements or decisions for similar cases; and
- Read specialized literature on pertinent subjects.
In addition, they must be able to use:
- Various databases;
- Different systems for classifying legal documents; and
- Specialized publications.
Paralegals must know what to look for, where to find it and how to go about doing so. They must make sure their research is very thorough. They must also write summaries and present their research in a way that highlights the most important information.
A lawyer’s documents and files, which contain the proof and arguments needed to defend their cases, are prepared with the help of different members of the lawyer’s team.
Lawyers often rely on Paralegals to help prepare these cases. Whether Paralegals work independently or for a lawyer, they must have the knowledge needed to:
- Open case files and monitor them;
- Prepare legal documents; and
- Collect proof to be used in court.
Paralegals not only research and file documents; they must also draft them. Depending on the specialization of the lawyer they work with, Paralegals may need to write:
- Proceedings (demands, requests, defences, etc.),
- Trial briefs; and
- Letters (for legal correspondence).
You may find Paralegals at work in:
- Legal firms;
- Court houses;
- Legal clinics;
- Financial institutions;
- Federal, provincial and municipal government offices; and
- Corporate legal departments.
Paralegals may also be self-employed.
While the work of a Paralegal varies depending on the work setting, their duties fall under the areas of responsibility described above, i.e., representing clients and providing legal advice, research, file management as well as legal writing.
Education and Training
Since May 2007, The Law Society of Upper Canada has been the regulating body of services provided by Paralegals in Ontario. To become a Paralegal in Ontario, you must have a license to practice and have:
1. Completed a college-level legal services program (consult the list of postsecondary programs accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada); and
2. Passed the regulatory examination consisting of multiple-choice questions to assess your knowledge in general areas of the legal field.
For more information on Paralegal practice in Ontario, visit The Law Society of Upper Canada website.
Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia
To become a Paralegal in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, you are required to take college-level Paralegal courses, offered in English only. In British Columbia, the Paralegal programs offered by the Capilano University are recognized by The Law Society of British Columbia. In Alberta, training is offered by a number of colleges, including MacEwan University and Red Deer College.
If you work in French, legal terminology can be learned on the job.
In British Columbia, the province’s law society is currently looking at the roles and responsibilities of Paralegals in that province. It is, therefore, possible that Paralegal profession in British Colombia will be more strictly supervised and defined if, for example, The Law Society implements new regulations mandating such changes.
In Alberta, the Alberta Association of Professional Paralegals (AAPP) has established a code of ethics for its members. To learn more about the Association and membership, visit the AAPP website.
The growth of computerized legal databases bases and the steady improvement in search abilities has greatly influenced the Paralegal’s work. In order to become proficient at using the various tools at their disposal, Paralegals should expect to continue updating their skills and expand their knowledge throughout their career.
Paralegals must have a solid knowledge of legislation, including recent changes, and any legal decisions that may have affect the rights of their clients.
Here are some of the important skills necessary for a career as a Paralegal.
Paralegals must rely on principles recognized by laws and case law when working on a case. They must also limit their research to the task they have been asked to carry out.
Attention to detail
Paralegals must keep all the legal documents for a case up to date, something that requires accuracy and a great deal of care.
Paralegals must read and understand court decisions and know which laws apply to clients’ cases. They must be able to understand complex legal concepts and determine the differences between various laws when deciding which ones apply to a case.
Good written communication skills
Drafting documents makes up a good part of a Paralegal’s day. Legal documents must be written in a clear and precise manner. In order to produce high quality written work, Paralegals must have an excellent command of written English or French, depending on the working language in their workplace.
These are just some examples of skills you would need. If you are also organized, conscientious, and thorough and can work well without supervision, you would make an excellent Paralegal.
Frequently asked questions
Lawyers are supported in their work by a number of other individuals. Paralegals provide assistance to lawyers and their clients through their expertise in representing clients, research, drafting documents and managing cases. Lawyers often depend on Paralegals when preparing their cases. In some provinces, Paralegals are also qualified to represent clients in court.
Paralegal postsecondary programs are available in various provinces, including Alberta, British Colombia, Manitoba and Ontario. The profession is becoming more and more supervised and redefined by the provinces’ law societies and Paralegal associations.