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Paralegals Want to Help Save Families

January 24, 2008 permalink

Most children's aid cases are efforts to alienate or remove the children of single mothers. Few of these women can afford the services of a lawyer, but for years they have been able to use the less capable, but more affordable, assistance of paralegals. Now that the Law Society is regulating the paralegal trade, they have been forbidden to practice in family court, leaving most single mothers with no legal help at all. A lawsuit is pending to alter the regulatory regime, and possibly allow paralegals back into family court.



North York paralegals suing attorney general, law society

Three paralegals, including two from North York, have filed a lawsuit against Ontario's attorney general and the Law Society of Upper Canada for the way paralegals in the province are regulated.

The lawsuit, filed by Judi Simms, president of the Paralegal Society of Ontario along with North York residents Rivka La Belle and Gerald Grupp, claim that paralegals are not being regulated in the public interest and that the attorney general and the Law Society of Upper Canada have violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Under the power of regulation given to the Law Society of Upper Canada, paralegals are being deprived of the right to represent individuals in family courts throughout the province," Simms said. "The McGuinty government gave the Law Society of Upper Canada the power not only to regulate paralegals, but to determine areas of permitted practice."

Paralegals welcome regulation, but not by the Law Society of Upper Canada, Simms said.

"They are our competitors," she said. "It would be like Home Depot regulating Canadian Tire."

Paralegals are permitted in small claims court, in the Ontario Court of Justice under the Provincial Offences Act, on summary conviction offences in which the maximum penalty does not exceed six months imprisonment, and before administrative tribunals, including the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.

But as of May 1, 2007, paralegals are not permitted to appear in family court, which Simms takes the greatest issue with.

"For many years we have appeared on behalf of clients," said Simms, adding paralegals are also exempt from dealing with wills, uncontested divorces, estate and probate documents. "These are services paralegals have openly advertised for years. Single mothers often don't have the resources to hire a lawyer."

Simms said she wouldn't mind if the Law Society of Upper Canada acts as a guide, but paralegals should be regulated by themselves or by a government agency.

"Then we can have control over our own destiny," she said, adding paralegal fees are often a third of the price of lawyers.

La Belle, a paralegal for 19 years, said for the past 10 years the main focus of her practice has been family related.

"Fifty per cent of my business has been in family court," she said. "I am 100 per cent for regulation but it has to be self-regulated. It's not good for the public not to have a choice. We are being regulated by our opponent and discriminated against."

Simms said a hearing on the lawsuit will be scheduled for the spring.

"I can tell you that we have been served with the notice of an application for judicial review challenging the constitutionality of the Law Society of Upper Canada regulating paralegals under the Law Society Act," said Valerie Hopper, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General. "It is our position that in order to protect the public interest, it is appropriate for the Law Society to regulate paralegals just as they regulate lawyers. As this matter is now before the court, we will not be commenting further at this time."

Source: North York Mirror, insidetoronto
pointed out by Bev Yates