Lawyers Financial

Paralegals versus criminal defence lawyers in Ottawa

By Céline Dostaler

When charged with a criminal offence some individuals believe that they can defend themselves in court, but once they realize the difficulty of the court system they seek legal counsel from paralegals to help with the paperwork and understanding the justice system. However, depending on your case, this could result in receiving criminal charges, the mandatory minimum, and a permanent criminal record. Criminal defence lawyers are trained and educated in supplying you with the top legal advice and defending all charges in which you have been convicted. Defence lawyers also have the experience within the court and criminal justice system, which provides you with the support you need during one of the most difficult times in your life.

Here I will explain the key differences between paralegals and criminal defence lawyers in Ottawa. It is essential to understand these differences so you can make wise decisions in regards to the counsel you need to fight your charges and receive the most appropriate outcomes. Whether you have been charged with domestic assault, sexual assault, impaired driving, drug charges, white collar crimes, or any other criminal offence you will find value in reading the key differences between a paralegal and a criminal defence lawyer.

The differences between paralegals and criminal defence lawyers in Ottawa

To begin with, while knowledgeable about the law and justice system, paralegals have less formal education than lawyers. Most paralegals spend between two to three years working towards a post-secondary degree, pursuing their paralegal studies diploma. They do not have to complete the Bar Admission Course and in most cases are not licensed.

On the other hand, lawyers will spend between five to seven years pursuing their education, not to mention, have to complete the Bar Admission Course, which consists of study and taking exams in two primary licensing topics, as well as completing a minimum of a 10-month articleship with a licensed lawyer. Upon completing these steps, the lawyer is then called to the Bar and allowed to become a licensed lawyer. Each province requires lawyers to pass a Bar Admission exam in order to defend cases in each specific province. Defence lawyers must do this before being able to represent clients, requiring even more study based on each provincial law set.

The similarities between paralegals and criminal defence lawyers in Ottawa

There are similarities in certain duties performed by both criminal defence lawyers and paralegals. Both spend countless hours conducting research, preparing and submitting legal documents and briefs, and providing consultations. Paralegals also help lawyers prepare for court hearings, trials, and appeals. As you can see, the support paralegals provide are beneficial for both you and your lawyer.

The biggest difference is when it comes time to go to court in Canada. The defence lawyer is the individual who is responsible for representing their client’s best interests. They must present evidence in the case, question witnesses and address the judge and jury. As such, the high profile attention the lawyer receives in providing defence for their clients requires the additional expertise and knowledge lawyers possess, compared to paralegals.

Can I use a paralegal for criminal offences?

The law does allow for the accused to either represent themselves or choose an appropriate person to provide representation. Paralegals are a viable resource as part of your entire criminal defence team, and often provide valuable input in preparing the defence against your charges. However, most paralegals lack court experience and due to the seriousness of criminal offences, if you want the best results, you should use an experienced and qualified lawyer that has represented others facing similar charges.

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