Injustice still prevails for paralegals, says Lippa

Numerous signs prohibiting paralegals from sitting past the bar and being called before lawyers in the College Park courtrooms have recently been posted in plain view of the public, says Toronto paralegal Marian Lippa.

These signs, which advise that paralegals can sit behind the bar with the clerks and interpreters, appear to fly against a finding of the Law Society's five-year review of paralegal regulation that recommended amending the Act to ensure paralegals are "treated with respect," and their clients not be "prejudiced," she explains.

“I have never felt so humiliated and embarrassed as a legal professional.  What message is this telling the public? Access to justice and efficiency of the court is reserved for the wealthy who can afford the lawyer?” says Lippa.

The College Park signs state that lawyers matters shall be called first and that in observance of the Barrister's Act, the seating before the bar is reserved for law students, clerks, paralegals and interpreters.

"The Barristers Act and sitting past the bar for paralegals was never so invoked until we were regulated. As if to tell us we are not welcome in the criminal courts," she says.

Lippa explains that there are also other signs posted in various courthouses showing negativity towards paralegals, such as those posted outside of the law libraries and lounges strictly prohibiting their use by paralegals. For example, Lippa says she could not hang her coat in the winter and was forced to carry it with her into the courtroom, hoping she would not be reprimanded for cluttering the courtroom.

In terms of the law libraries, Lippa notes that s. 57 (2) of the Law Society Act says that interest from trust accounts must be remitted to the Law Foundation of Ontario, which maintains and operates the law libraries which paralegals are prohibited from using.

Meanwhile, in a separate but related matter, Lippa has launched a Certiorari application that will be heard Oct. 1 in Newmarket Superior Court to overturn a Justice of the Peace’s decision banning paralegals from sitting past the bar and requiring they be called in accordance with the Barrister’s Act to handle criminal matters. Read Story

At the end of June, the Law Society released its five year review of paralegal regulation to the Attorney General. The report contains the following reference on page 23:

"ix. Statutory Environment

Creating the paralegal regulatory model required the amendment of dozens of Ontario statutes. The Office of Legislative Counsel provided excellent assistance in this regard. However, some anomalies remain in older statutes, where complex issues arise when considering the most appropriate amendments. These issues have been raised by several paralegals and are discussed in a submission to this review from a paralegal association.

The Law Society continues to work on these issues with government representatives and stakeholders. Among the statutes that have been or are being considered for amendment are the following:

Barristers Act

A related issue arises in the context of this historical statute. Section 3 provides that Queen’s Counsel have precedence in court, and that precedence for other counsel is to be set by year of call to the bar. This provision dates from before other legal service providers were contemplated, and while it is again not generally observed, it has occasionally caused problems when matters to be argued by a paralegal have been moved to the bottom of the court list. The Law Society recommends that the act be amended to ensure that paralegals are treated with respect and clients are not prejudiced by their choice of representative."

“Although I am pleased that my complaint to the LSUC regarding the Barristers Act has been addressed in the review, I am saddened that these demeaning practices are happening in the interim while the government works to change the legislation,” says Lippa.

"I am confident that the LSUC will take charge of this issue to ensure that respect is adhered to for the paralegals while we wait for legislation change,” she adds.

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