justice: the value of paralegals
When it comes to legal representation and advice, Ontarians have two options: hire a
lawyer or enlist the services of a paralegal. Many people still aren’t aware of the
range of services paralegals provide or the types of legal situations where it may
Paralegals are licensed, trained legal professionals who are
regulated by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO), the same regulatory body for lawyers.
They provide legal services in very specific areas as governed under the
Law Society Act.
In its consultation paper of 2004, Regulating Paralegals: A
Proposed Approach, the LSO says “It is generally recognized that paralegals can play
a useful access-to-justice role in Ontario by providing assistance to individuals
who, for various reasons, are unable or unwilling to hire a lawyer. From an
access-to-justice perspective, there are advocacy areas where it can be difficult to
obtain the services of a lawyer, such as landlord and
tenant cases and Small Claims Court — demonstrating a clear requirement to meet
Paralegals have been regulated by the LSO since May 1, 2007
and as such, can help Ontarians navigate their way through various areas of the
paralegals really do?
Handling Small Claims Court cases is one of the most popular
areas of practice for paralegals. If you are suing, or are being sued, for money or
the return of personal property valued at $35,000 or less, a paralegal can
provide advice and represent you in court.
Let’s look at a typical Small Claims Court scenario: You enter
into a formal agreement with a contractor to do some repairs at a cost of $20,000.
The services you agreed on were either not performed or not fully completed.
You had initially given the contractor a $10,000 down payment but refused to pay the
balance because of the substandard job. The contractor then sues you for the
remaining amount. What do you do?
his is one of those situations where you may firmly believe
you need a lawyer or, if you can’t afford one, you may choose to represent yourself.
The wealth of information available at our fingertips today may also play
a part in your decision to self-represent. However, this is a great example of a
case where you do not necessarily require the services of a lawyer, but also don’t
need to do it on your own. A paralegal can help by
providing legal advice and/or representing you in the case.
Often, we rely on information obtained from American court
dramas on TV, or we access similar resources from the internet considering it to be
very helpful content. The reality is this is not at all how it plays out in
our courtrooms. You may, therefore, end up in a position where you risk losing your
case for reasons such as not knowing exactly how to present the relevant law and the
facts to the judge or effectively questioning
witnesses from the other side who may have secured legal representation.
In addition to the stress the process can cause, a losing
party can also end up having to pay the opposing side’s representation fee as well
as satisfying the judgment made against them if there is one.
It has often been said that the complex nature of our legal
system, along with the associated costs, can truly become that which bars access to
justice for many. Paralegals have and will continue to play a crucial role
in providing access to justice for Ontarians.