The similarities between Paralegals & Lawyers in Ontario

Ontario is a unique province when it comes to legal representation. The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) governs both lawyers and paralegals, giving them the authority to provide legal services to the public. While the LSO started regulating paralegals decades after becoming the governing body for lawyers in Ontario (issuing the first paralegal license in April 2008) they hold paralegals to many of the same standards. Moreover, while there are many differences between lawyers and paralegals and what they are allowed to do, there are also many similarities that aren’t widely known…

Both have to complete the following before they can provide legal services:

  • High school education (or equivalent certification);
  • An accredited post-secondary education program;
  • A placement/internship with a Licensee in order to gain practical experience (this is called “articling” for lawyers and “field placement” for paralegals);
  • Successfully pass a licensing exam; and
  • Adhere to professional and ethical obligations of a legal professional or face disciplinary procedures.

Once licensed by the LSO, they have to adhere to similar maintenance requirements as well such as:

  • Annually completing
    • Twelve (12) Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours (by December 31);
    • annual reports (by March 31); and
    • paying their annual membership fees (by March 31) which is based on their current employment situation.

Lawyers and paralegals annual fees are both paid into the following two LSO funds:

  • General Fund – maintained by the Law Society for its program delivery and administration which includes a provision for the Law Society’s future capital requirements; and
  • Compensation Fund – The Law Society maintains this fund pursuant to section 51 of the Law Society Act to relieve or mitigate loss sustained by any person in consequence of dishonesty on the part of any paralegal or lawyer in connection with their legal services, practice or in connection with any trust of which the lawyer or paralegal was, or is, a trustee.    

Additionally, both lawyers and paralegals…

  • Need to hold valid Errors and Omissions (E&O) Insurance in order to protect their clients in the event there is a mistake made when providing legal services;
  • Are subject to practice audits to ensure they are compliant with the applicable Law Society Rules and By-laws;
  • Are considered Officers of the Court and Commissioners;
  • Can also hold the title of Notary Public, however lawyers automatically get this title whereas paralegals have to make a separate application to become a Notary Public;
  • Can open and operate Trust Accounts and therefore can ask for retainer money before they start working on your case;
  • Must have their current contact information, business name, practice status and regulatory history made public under the Lawyer and Paralegal Directory on the LSO website; and

Both lawyers and paralegals in Ontario can be your counsel in the following areas of law:

(This list is also considered the Paralegal Scope of Practice, meaning paralegals can solely represent clients without the supervision of a lawyer with these matters):

  • Small claim cases (up to $35,000 CAD);
  • Any matter under the Provincial Offences Act;
  • Most summary offences matters where the maximum penalty is six-month imprisonment and/or a fine of not more than $5000.00 CAD; and
  • Any matter before a tribunal, board or committee such as the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) and Human Rights Tribunals.

If you are not familiar with the Ontario legal system, I am sure there are more similarities than you thought there were. I was even a bit surprised when I sat down to write this article. But with that being said, there are several important differences between lawyers and paralegals in Ontario and this article would not be complete if I did not highlight these differences.

The Differences Between Lawyers and Paralegals in Ontario

EducationLawyers must complete a Bachelor’s degree, successfully pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), complete a three-year law school program, and complete a ten-month articling period.  Paralegals must complete an accredited post-secondary program (most often a two-year college diploma), including 120 hours of a placement/internship before they can write their licensing exam.
Representation  A lawyer can represent you in any area of law, at any level of court in a jurisdiction (province) in which they are licensed.  A paralegal can only provide legal representation in Ontario and have a narrow scope of practice covering small claims, summary offenses, tribunals, and provincial offenses.
Legal AidLawyers can accept Legal Aid Certificates (though not all do).Paralegals are not able to accept Legal Aid Certificates.

The Paralegal scope of practice is ever changing though. For example, the Ontario Small Claims Court in 2008 had the monetary claims limit set at $10,000. It was then increased on January 1st, 2010 to $25,000 and again on January 1st, 2020 to $35,000. Another change that occurred in 2020, was on August 1st the Notaries Act was amended to allow “Paralegals to be appointed as notaries in the same manner as lawyers”.

While there are matters where only a lawyer can represent you (such as drafting a Will) it is important to note that there are paralegals who may also be able to help you with your legal matter. If you are unsure where to turn or who you should hire, feel free to contact me today and I can either represent you as a paralegal or point you in the right direction!

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog post were accurate at the time of publication. Changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of the information provided above. This blog post is not updated on a regular basis.

Written by Rebecca B. Tripp.

Originally Posted on September 28, 2021

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