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Out with the Paralegals!
October 19, 2006 permalink
Most families attacked by Children's Aid cannot afford a lawyer. Until now, they could use the services of of a paralegal for functions such as preparing affidavits. Now, even that assistance is to be denied them. A law just enacted allows the Law Society (lawyer's union) to regulate paralegals. Do not be fooled by the claim that this regulation will improve the quality of paralegal services. This is the same profession that sends lawyers into the courtroom who ostensibly represent children, but don't listen to their clients, and really represent only the social services system.
Ont. becomes first province to regulate paralegals; puts lawyers in charge
TORONTO (CP) - Ontario became the first province in Canada to regulate paralegals Thursday, but many in the profession worry they could be forced out of business because they will be regulated by lawyers - the very people they compete against for most of their work.
The Liberal government had to use its majority to out-vote the Conservatives and New Democrats, who stood in opposition to the Access to Justice Act - a new law that puts the Law Society of Upper Canada in charge of regulating paralegals.
For the first time, paralegals will be required to receive training, carry liability insurance and report to a public body that can investigate complaints.
"We are really witnessing the birth of a new profession," said Attorney General Michael Bryant. "Paralegals are joining the ranks of doctors, lawyers and teachers as a regulated and respected profession in Ontario."
But the Paralegal Society of Ontario is fearful the Law Society will stop paralegals from providing a low-cost alternative to lawyers for civil cases, incorporations, wills, divorces and other family law disputes.
"This legislation is going to hurt the public, as they're going to be limited in choice because it's going to go back to just being lawyers," warned spokeswoman Susan Koprich.
"The lawyers are glad, the paralegals are mad and the public is sad. This is a bad bill."
The government said the Law Society has the experience and ability to regulate professionals providing legal services, and noted a paralegal will head the committee that implements the new paralegal regulations.
But Koprich said the government is ignoring the concerns of paralegals who fear the powerful Law Society will try to regulate them right out of business.
"There's only about 2,000 paralegals out there, and God knows how many lawyers in the Law Society, an old institution that's been around forever," she said.
"They are listening to the people with the power, with the money. They're not listening to the public, and they're not listening to the paralegals."
The Ontario Bar Association, which represents the 30,000 lawyers in the province, said it was very happy to see paralegals finally become a regulated profession to help protect consumers.
"Paralegals without any regulation, from time to time, didn't serve their clients as well as they might," said association president James Morton.
"Without some regulation there's really no way to protect the public from the bad apples."
The Opposition warned that the Law Society will be under pressure to restrict the types of activities that paralegals can perform to limit the competition to lawyers.
But Morton said the two operate in different areas and should have no problems working under the same regulating body.
"Paralegals and lawyers, while they both provide legal services, provide different sorts of services in different contexts, and there really isn't any need for competition or conflict between the two professions," he said.
"There's no reason why paralegals and lawyers can't be living happily together."
The bill also provides a more open and transparent appointment process for justices of the peace, and establishes minimum qualifications for new appointees.
It also changes the Provincial Offences Act so witnesses in trials can be heard and cross-examined by electronic means such as video conferencing.
Source: canoe.ca website