Education needed if paralegal practice expands

An expanded scope of practice for paralegals can only be achieved with a complete revamp of the educational standard set for those in the profession, says Toronto paralegal Marian Lippa.

An upcoming motion spearheaded by Marshall Yarmus asks the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) to create a task force to research the possibility of broadening practice areas for paralegals in immigration and family law as well as construction liens, Law Times reports.

The motion will be considered later this month at the society’s annual general meeting, the report says, noting the task force would look into “establishing the education, training, experience, and other necessary qualifications” that would allow paralegals to practise in those areas with a broader capacity.

The new motion references the 2012 report by David Morris that raised the idea of training paralegals to work in areas of the law that now fall outside their scope of practice, the article adds.

“At present, the colleges are meeting the LSUC accreditation with the curriculum which prepares students for the licencing examinations,” says Lippa. “The LSUC is undergoing a review of the paralegal licencing examination and in turn, this will be taken back to the colleges so they can amend, review or upgrade the educational curriculum as required.”

When the licencing examination is amended, Lippa says the accredited colleges will also “need a reasonable amount of time to consider the logistical implications” to ensure they’re prepared.

“To increase the scope of practice at this point without implementing the necessary educational courses would not be valuable to anyone,” she says. “Specialized training and vigorous testing in specific areas should be implemented before one is licensed to practise.”

Lippa says many veteran paralegals have worked on family, criminal and immigration law cases and would add value for clients.

“They would posses equal competency and experience to the lawyers,” she says. “The veteran paralegals, those being paralegals practising before licencing, should have available to them certified specialist courses to upgrade their skills since regulation. On the same note, any current students wishing to enter these specialized areas, including criminal law, should be subject to the same extended education and testing.”

The impending motion comes as Lippa continues to wait for a decision in her application to overturn a Justice of the Peace’s decision banning paralegals from sitting past the bar and to have paralegals included in the Barrister’s Act.  See Prior Story

The Superior Court of Justice reserved judgment last month.

Paralegals are experts in small claim and provincial offence matters, including highway traffic charges, says Lippa, noting hiring a paralegal in these situations is more logical than hiring a lawyer who rarely deals with these areas of law.

“Paralegals don't want to be seen as unequal to the lawyers based on education and competency, they want to be seen as an alternative advocate for lower court matters for the public and access to justice,” she says.

“The motion speaks to implementing a task force to look into the expansion of practice for paralegals based on Morris' recommendations. That's a good thing,” she says. “The focus now must be trying to move them along in doing it, but it takes time and careful planning.”

Lippa says having lawyers and paralegals working together to increase access to justice is a positive goal.

“We all just need to understand our specific roles so that there is no resentment on the playing field,” she says.

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