Motion could benefit paralegals and general public

A motion asking the Law Society of Upper Canada to research an expanded scope of practice for paralegals is a move in the right direction, says Toronto paralegal Chris Ruggieri.

The motion, spearheaded by Marshall Yarmus, will ask the law society 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.

“Paralegals have proposed similar motions in the past, however up until recently they have been neglected for the most part,” says Ruggieri, paralegal with Carranza LLP. “Expanding the scope for paralegals will be beneficial for both the paralegal profession as well as the general public. I think it will benefit everyone if the LSUC researches this matter further.”

Ruggieri says expanded practice areas for paralegals isn’t a pressing need, but says research is a positive first step.

“I think that expanding the paralegal practice is something that needs to be carefully studied before any decisions are made, however I do believe that expanding the practice will increase the public’s access to sound, affordable legal representation,” he says.

The Law Times report says critics have spoken out against the motion saying it may dilute the standards in their practice areas – comments Ruggieri disagrees with.

“I believe that the newly introduced licensing process has raised the profile of the paralegal profession,” he says. “Every paralegal now must attend an LSUC-accredited paralegal program, most of which, like law school, are three years in duration. Furthermore, paralegals are held to similar licensing standards as lawyers.”

Specifically, Ruggieri says paralegals must successfully complete the accredited program, are subject to a criminal background check, must prove their good character and complete the licensing examination.

“The standards for paralegals are stringent, and as such I believe paralegals not only have the capacity to practise family and immigration law, but they also have the capacity to be quite successful,” he says.

“This motion is only to review the possibility of broadening the scope for paralegals. The goal here is to gather information to help LSUC make an informed decision. For someone to say that researching this topic will dilute the standards in their practice area is a gross misunderstanding of the purpose of this motion.

“It’s important to remember that paralegals have the same fiduciary responsibility to protect their client as a lawyer. Whether you are a lawyer or a paralegal, you have an obligation to protect the client, and regardless of your practice area you have an obligation to refer the client if you feel your client would benefit from the representation of a more experienced licensee.

“The probability of making an error, or damaging a client’s case, exists whether you are a lawyer or a paralegal. This is why errors and omissions insurance exists for both professions.”

Ruggieri says he hopes the motion is successful.

“We need to remember that this motion is merely to review the possibility of broadening the scope of practice for paralegals,” he says. “I think that researching this particular issue will provide everyone with a better understanding of what paralegals are truly capable of.”