According to Employment Ontario, the job prospects for paralegals in the province are good, with job opportunities for paralegals projected to grow between 2009 and 2013. They attribute this to changes in regulations, growth in the utilization of paralegals by both lawyers and the public, and specialization within the field. As of the 2006 Canadian census, 17,265 paralegals were employed in Ontario, with the largest concentrations working in Ottawa and Toronto.
Ontario is the first province in Canada to regulate its paralegals through licensure. In May, 2007, licensure through the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) became required of paralegal who want to practice independently, without supervision by a lawyer. It also clearly defined the scope of practice of independent paralegals, the educational requirements, and standards of practice. Detailed information about paralegal licensing is available at the LSUC’s website.
Licensing allows paralegals to act as legal agents and to directly represent clients in certain matters. Some areas in which paralegals are licensed to represent businesses and individuals are:
- Small Claims Court;
- The Ontario Court of Justice, under the Provincial Offences Act;
- The Ontario Court of Justice, on summary conviction offences where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months imprisonment;
- Administrative Tribunals, including the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, the Landlord and Tenant board and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
To become licensed, paralegals must complete the following steps:
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- Complete an approved course of study, including a field placement, through an accredited paralegal education program;
- Submit a statement of good character;
- Pay a registration fee;
- Write and pass the Paralegal Licensing Exam.
To maintain their licenses, paralegals must complete 12 hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) each year and pay an annual renewal fee to the LSUC.
In addition to becoming licensed, some paralegals also choose to add related professional skills to their repertoire. For example, many paralegals are also notaries public or trademark agents.
In Ontario, legal assistants, law clerks and other legal support workers perform work that would fall under a paralegal’s job description in other parts of Canada. They must be directly supervised by lawyers and may not work independently. They may not call themselves paralegals.
Ontario’s paralegal licensing law specifies that aspiring paralegals must complete an accredited paralegal education program. There are three types of programs available: certificate, diploma and degree.
Paralegal certificates can often be completed in one year as they focus exclusively on paralegal education without general education requirements. Certificates are designed for working people, those wishing to make a midlife career change, or others who do not wish to complete a diploma or degree program. Some certificate programs are offered online, in the evenings or on the weekend to accommodate working professionals. Graduate certificates require that applicants have previously earned a diploma or degree.
For those wishing to work in Ontario’s legal field without becoming licensed paralegals, there are certificate programs designed for legal assistants. These programs provide a basic understanding of legal matters, Canadian law, and civil litigation procedures.
Paralegal diplomas are available to aspiring paralegals that have completed some post-secondary coursework or that work experience in the legal field. Because paralegal diploma coursework does not require much general education coursework, diplomas can usually be completed in two years. Often, students that are enrolled in a paralegal diploma program will take classes alongside students in a degree program. However, they will not receive a degree as they are not completing general education classes.
Paralegal degrees include both general education courses and paralegal specific courses. Degrees usually can be earned in four years.
Paralegals in Ontario may choose to join two professional paralegal societies: the Paralegal Society of Ontario and the Licensed Paralegals Association of Ontario.
The Paralegal Society of Ontario (PSO) provides support, representation and education to licensed paralegals in Ontario. Its voting members must all be in good standing with the Law Society of Upper Canada and carry liability insurance. PSO offers assistance to paralegals in seeking to become licensed or in maintaining their licensure through mentoring, continuing professional development (CPD), seminars and group rates for liability insurance. The work to increase the utilization of paralegals by the public and have successfully negotiated to have paralegals included in law society referrals. PSO also offers a job bank to their members.
The Licensed Paralegals Association of Ontario (LPA) formed in 2008, following Ontario’s adoption of paralegal licensing. Its goals include: uniting licensed paralegals, promoting the licensed paralegal profession, encouraging continued education and professional development for paralegals, raising standards of ethics and professionalism among paralegals, and encouraging social networking between members. Voting members must be in compliance with the licensure requirements and carry professional liability insurance.
As large law firms typically employ many paralegals, they can be good places to begin a career search. Some of Canada’s largest law firms have offices in Ontario, especially in Toronto and Ottawa. Such law firms include:
- Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP
- Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
- Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP
- Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP
- Norton Rose OR LLP
- Heenan Blaikie LLP
- McMillan LLP
- Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh
- Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP
- Kelly Santini LLP
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP
- Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
- McCarthy Tétrault LLP
- Stikeman Elliott LLP
- Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP
- Torys LLP
- Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP
- Goodmans LLP
- Miller Thomson LLP
- Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP
- Bennett Jones LLP
- Aird & Berlis LLP
- Blaney McMurtry LLP
- Fogler, Rubinoff LLP
Important Contacts for Paralegals in Ontario
- Ontario Paralegal Association
- Legal Society of Upper Canada – Licensing Process for Paralegals
- Legal Society of Upper Canada – Paralegal Rules of Conduct
- Employment Ontario – Paralegal Employment Profile