Paralegal education is not standardized, even within a province. As educational requirements vary from law firm to law firm, the Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP) recommends contacting potential employers to determine the standards for their firm. Some employers may be willing to train paralegals, whereas others will want employees to have an educational background that would supplement their career. This may be in the form of a paralegal education program or a complementary field such as environmental science, finance, writing or business. However, in a competitive job market, education is becoming increasingly important. It sets candidates apart from their peers and demonstrates their commitment to the profession.
The 2006 Canadian census data found that more than 60% of paralegals had completed some post-secondary education, while more than one-quarter of paralegals had earned a bachelor’s degree. Those with a Diploma of College Studies (DEC) reported higher than average rates of entry into full-time work. More than 20% of graduates with a DEC furthered their education at the university level. This reflects the growing professionalism of the paralegal career and the increasing growth of the field.
Paralegal Schools by Province in Canada
Paralegal education programs are offered at colleges and universities. Colleges typically offer career programs that are focused on preparing graduates for the job market. As such, they specialize in the coursework needed to teach paralegal education without offering many general education programs. Career programs at a college often can be completed more quickly than a university degree. They can also prepare students for continuing on to university. A good college program should also include a practicum or internship.
In addition to diplomas, some colleges may also issue certificates. Certificates are usually offered to students who have previously completed a degree in another field and wish to return to school to specialize as paralegals. Certificate programs are often shorter and more focused than diploma programs, and are geared toward working professionals. They are often available through the college’s continuing education department.
At a university, students may earn a bachelor’s degree, which includes both focused coursework in paralegal education along with general education. Students with university degrees will have a broader understanding of many subjects in addition to more in depth understanding of their major focus. Some university students will continue on to law school, so they may still choose to work as paralegals in order to gain relevant experience before embarking on careers as a lawyers.
The Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP) recommends completing paralegal education within the province that you are planning to work as each province is governed by different sets of laws. Statutes, procedures and requirements vary between provinces. CAP recommends talking with potential employers in advance of beginning an educational program to determine whether that educational program, as offered in one province, would meet the requirements of another.
Certification and Licensure
National certification is sometimes offered to a profession as a means of establishing standards of professionalism. Persons who successfully complete a certifying process demonstrate that they are competent in their field. This process is often voluntary. In Canada, national certification is not available for paralegals. Currently, provincial certification is similarly unavailable. No provinece has set standards that must be followed, with the exception of Ontario. Whether or not one is qualified to work as a paralegal is often determined by the employer.
In Ontario, those who wish to be called “paralegals” must become licensed. Licensure is not required in order to work under the supervision of a lawyer within a law office or the like. The Law Society of Upper Canada, which oversees paralegal licensure in Ontario, lists three basic qualifications that must be met in order to become licensed paralegals: completion of a paralegal education program from a Law Society accredited school which includes a field placement; passing the Paralegal Licensing Exam; and submitting a Good Character Form. In addition, candidates for the exam must pay a fee to sit for the exam and to obtain the study materials.
Continuing Professional Development
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is not required of paralegals in Canada except in Ontario. Licensed Paralegals in Ontario must complete 12 hours of CPD annually. Bar associations, law societies and professional paralegal associations in Ontario offer CDP through evening workshops, seminars and conferences. Additional courses may be offered online.
Paralegals in other provinces may voluntarily choose to earn CPD so that they can increase their knowledge and skill base. This can help them advance in their careers by permitting them to assume greater responsibility at work, specialize within an area of law, or learn about new developments in the legal profession. Outside of Ontario, CPD may not be targeted to paralegals unless it is offered by a professional paralegal association. Several of Canada’s paralegal professional associations offer opportunities like the British Columbia Paralegal Association’s monthly “lunch and learn” meetings. Bar associations and legal societies may permit paralegals to attend CDP courses. Additionally, online coursework may be available.