Washington model could be adopted in Ontario for paralegals
With access to justice an ongoing concern in Ontario, the province could learn from Washington State’s new option that offers family law legal support for those unable to afford the services of a lawyer, says Toronto paralegal Marian Lippa.
It’s the first state in the United States to offer the services of Limited License Legal Technicians, who are trained and licensed to assist people going through divorce, child custody and other family law matters in Washington.
"Their independant role as an advocate is the equivalent to our role as paralegal in Ontario," Lippa tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Lippa, who is a bencher for the Law Society of Upper Canada, says Ontario could use Washington as a model to expand the practice scope of paralegals, whose current duties include handling provincial act matters in court, to include some aspects of family law with adequate education and training from law schools.
“This is an access to justice issue,” she says. “If we we're permitted to do a certain scope within family law, I believe it would eliminate a large percentage of the unrepresented parties that currently plague the courts and waste valuable court time because they are unprepared, which frustrates the justices and often prevents the matter from moving along efficiently."
Washington State has found a way to provide help to those who need it most and Ontario could do the same where paralegals can also attend certain family law court hearings, she says.
Other countries have done the same, Lippa says, pointing to the United Kingdom's family law paralegal designation.
"Let's get onboard Ontario — we've got a serious problem here," she says.
The Washington State Bar Association describes Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLTs) as the nurse practitioners of the legal world, “making legal services more accessible to people who can’t afford an attorney.
“While they cannot represent clients in court, LLLTs are able to consult and advise, complete and file necessary court documents, help with court scheduling and support a client in navigating the often confusing maze of the legal system," says the association's website.
Lippa frequently receives calls from people wanting assistance with their family law matters but she is unable to help them because only lawyers are licensed to do such work in Ontario. She says many who can't afford a lawyer don't qualify for legal aid and are left with no choice but to represent themselves — often without the knowledge they need to handle their matter.
She is among those who would like to see that change. Her experience with this issue derives from her years of volunteer work with a fathers' rights group.
Lippa notes that while paralegal fees range from $75 to $150 an hour, lawyers' fees generally start at $350.
She is advocating for paralegals to be licensed to help family law clients fill out their paperwork, do the legal research for them, review the other side’s materials, to assist clients with the interpretation of the files “so that they can represent themselves in court with a stronger position" and in some simpler matters, attend in court.
Lippa says if the province permitted a second-tier license for paralegals in the area of family law with the proper training from law schools as was done in Washington State through the American Bar Association, "there would be no question of the credentials of those paralegals."