Paralegal family law courses should be standard, LSUC-mandated

By Staff

Although he broadly supports a motion calling for the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) to introduce several requirements if paralegals are allowed to expand into family law, Toronto-area civil litigator lawyer Darryl Singer tells The Lawyer’s Daily that the educational component of the proposal should be amended.

As the article notes, a group of lawyers has signed a motion that will be presented at the upcoming LSUC annual general meeting, recommending the law society “revise the paralegal licensing guidelines, to require future licensing candidates to obtain an undergraduate degree along with training equivalent to that provided by law schools in family law, tax and evidence.”

The motion also requests the LSUC release the findings of any reports relating to paralegals providing representation in family law to its lawyer members, so they have an opportunity to provide feedback.

Although Singer, principal of Singer Barristers Professional Corporation, says he has signed the motion, he tells The Lawyer’s Daily he has considered removing his support, as he has reassessed his stance on the educational component.

“Where I part ways with the rest of the motion is I don’t necessarily think that they should have an undergraduate degree,” says Singer, who has practised family law in the past.

“With family law you’re dealing with the single-most important thing in people’s lives. You’re dealing with their rights to see their children. You’re dealing with — in the case of representing a wife, who in most cases is going to have the kids — the question of whether that person is going to have the financial ability to go on with whatever settlement there is with respect to support,” he says.

“I think there is no harm in having paralegals jumping into the game provided they have specific training in family law.”

The concern with introducing family law education into paralegal programs, Singer says, is there is less quality control than in law schools, which could create a disparity in the paralegal profession.

“It doesn’t matter where you go to law school in Canada because at the end of the day every law school in Canada provides the same education. It’s relatively standard,” he says.

“The problem with the paralegal education system is there is a very high level of education when we’re talking about the government funded community colleges — there is a level of quality control that exists there. The problem is that many of these private career colleges that are relatively unregulated are offering these courses and the law society has chosen to accredit them providing they meet certain basic requirements,” adds Singer.

"My concern with saying introduce a family law component into those programs is there isn’t a level of quality control."

Instead, Singer says he would like the law society to mandate additional training for paralegals.

“I’m not a hypocrite at all. There’s nothing to stop a lawyer for example, who’s a real estate lawyer for 20 years from suddenly saying ‘well the real estate market is going down, I’m going to start practising family law.'

"I think any lawyer who hasn’t practised a significant amount of family law in five years or more should be required to go back and take some refresher courses in family law as well,” he says.

The motion was tabled at the LSUC on May 10, which makes sense, Singer adds in a subsequent interview with The Lawyer's Daily, giving officials time to give the issue further study in relation to the Family Legal Services Review.

“I think that the end result, which was the motion being tabled, is probably the best result because what it does is it allows the concerns of both the lawyers and the paralegals to be addressed,” he says. “As a practical matter, it was a non-binding motion anyway, so no matter what was voted the law society can still do what it wants, but I think that most people are happy. When I looked at who put their hands up to table the motion, it seemed that the majority were people who had been very much on one side or the other and everybody seemed to sort of agree to table it, so I think that’s a good result.”

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