A paralegal is a professional who has the required education and experience to provide legal services to the general public, but they are not lawyers. In Ontario, paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Ontario and are regulated as officers of the court. Since 2007, the Law Society has had governing jurisdiction over approximately 9,000 licensed paralegals in the province.
What are paralegals authorized to do?
Licensed paralegals are authorized to represent individuals in the following areas:
- Small Claims Court litigation (up-to $25,000)
- Traffic and other offences under the Provincial Offences Act, which are heard in Provincial Offences Court
- Minor criminal charges under the Criminal Code, where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months’ imprisonment, and which are heard in the Ontario Court of Justice
- Statutory Accident Benefits (SAB) claims covered under the Insurance Act, for minor injuries due to motor vehicle accidents
- Hearings before administrative tribunals and boards (including the Landlord and Tenant Board, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (for claims associated with car accidents), Social Benefits Tribunal, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and the Immigration and Refugee Board)
When representing a client in any of these circumstances, a licensed paralegal can provide the following legal services:
- Give legal advice concerning legal interests, rights or responsibilities with respect to a proceeding or the subject matter of a proceeding,
- Draft or assist with drafting documents for use in a proceeding, and
- Negotiate on behalf of a person who is a party to a proceeding.
What can’t paralegals do?
Paralegals are not permitted to appear in Family Court. Other than under the supervision of a lawyer, paralegals are also not allowed to provide legal services that only a lawyer may provide, such as drafting wills, handling real estate transactions, and representing clients in serious criminal matters.
Paralegal Licensing Process
To become a licensed paralegal in Ontario, a candidate must:
- Meet the prerequisite educational requirements,
- Submit an application to enter the Paralegal Licensing Process, and
- Complete the Paralegal Licensing Examination.
1. Educational prerequisite
To apply for a paralegal licence with the Law Society, all applicants must have graduated from a Law Society accredited Paralegal Education Program. The accredited Paralegal Education Program must be from a college that has been approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. An applicant’s college transcript for submission with the application for the Licensing Program must show:
- completion of the accredited Paralegal Program,
- completion of a Professional Responsibility and/or Ethics course,
- completion of a minimum of 120 hours of field placement, and
- the month and year of graduation.
Once they have graduated from a Paralegal Education Program, applicants are eligible to apply to the Licensing Process.
The application to enter the Paralegal Licensing Process consists of two parts. First, candidates must complete the online application, and pay the non-refundable application fee. The online application requests personal information, such as the applicant’s date of birth, proof of legal name and proof of education, along with questions concerning the applicant’s “good character”.
Second, the candidate must submit a paper copy of their application and supporting documentation to the Paralegal Licensing, Licensing and Accreditation Department at the Law Society. Documents required include:
- college transcripts confirming the candidate graduated from an accredited Paralegal Program from approved college,
- two colour passport-sized photographs, taken within the last 12 months, and
- payment of all required fees to the Accounts Department at the Law Society.
All documents must be certified by a commissioner of oaths or a notary public.
Candidates can still apply to the Licensing Process if they have not yet graduated from a Paralegal Education Program, as long as they have completed all of the requirements to graduate from an Accredited Program and are waiting to receive a transcript of final marks and the diploma, along with a completed Statement of Field Placement, and other required documentation.
To write the Paralegal Licensing Examination, a candidate must have:
- Graduated from an accredited Paralegal Education Program offered at a college approved by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities,
- Instructed the college to send a final official transcript to the Licensing and Accreditation Department at the Law Society,
- Filed a Statement of Field Placement Form confirming completion of field placement work and any other required documents with the Licensing and Accreditation Department, and
- Paid all required fees.
Candidates must complete these requirements no later than 30 business days prior to the date they have selected to write the Licensing Examination.
The Licensing Examination is open-book format, and contains approximately 240 multiple-choice questions. It is divided into two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, each session lasting 3.5 hours.
Dates, locations and times for the Paralegal Licensing Examination are available on the LSO website. Candidates must apply well in advance of the scheduled date in order to be registered for an exam sitting.
Once candidates have passed their Licensing Examination, successfully completed all requirements of the Paralegal Licensing Process, have a clear good character status, have paid all fees and submitted all required documentation, they become eligible to become licensed. Once this happens, information on the procedure for obtaining a paralegal licence, relevant dates and timelines will be emailed to the candidates Law Society Web Account by the Licensing Process, Licensing and Accreditation Department. The information will not be posted online.
What is the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirement?
The Law Society of Ontario requires that licensed paralegals providing legal services must complete at least 12 hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) every year. This must consist of a minimum of 3 Professionalism Hours, and up-to 9 Substantive Hours.
Professionalism Hours focus on professional responsibility, ethics and/or practice management and must be accredited by the Law Society.
Substantive Hours do not need to be accredited by LSO and may focus on substantive or procedural law topics and/or related skills. Substantive Hours may also address non-legal subjects as long as they are relevant to the paralegal’s practice and professional development.
CPD workshops, seminars and conferences are offered by the LSO. For more information on the CPD requirement for paralegals, visit the Law Society website.
For more information about the Paralegal Licensing Process in Ontario, and for a list of paralegal college programs accredited by the Law Society of Ontario, call (416) 947-3300 or toll-free at 1-800-668-7380, or visit lso.ca.
The Ontario Paralegal Association (OPA) is the largest professional association of licensed paralegals in Ontario. Its mandate is to represent the interests of paralegals throughout the Province. To find out more, or to become a member, visit the OPA website.