Addressing Training Inequities
In a previous post, I discussed the privilege I had as a paralegal student. With family and friends in the legal industry, finding a decent co-op field placement was easy. I ended up working with a field placement host who provided an incredible learning experience. On my first day, I was in court. Terrified but there nonetheless. I attended court several times within those four months from bail hearings, adjournments to set dates. I also had hands on experience reviewing disclosure, drafting legal documents, interviewing clients and conducting legal research. The experience even gave me the opportunity to connect with other legal professionals in the same chambers (which helped me land my first job). This is an experience every paralegal student should have. Sadly, it isn’t.
I’m not sure how familiar you are with the Lawyer Experiential Training program. It’s pretty extensive, is well managed by the LSO and ensures articling students get access to the best possible experiences to enhance their learning. On the other hand, the co-op programs for paralegals are entirely the responsibility of the schools. If it’s within the LSO’s mandate to ensure the public is represented by competent legal professionals, why is the paralegal co-op program lacking LSO oversight?
Some quick facts about the Lawyer Experiential Training program:
Articling Principals must apply to the LSO in order to host students - this includes the completion of an application form including a statement of qualifications
The LSO thoroughly vets every application
Articling Principals must file an Experiential Training Plan with the LSO within the first 10 business days of the placement
Articling Principals must file a record of Experiential Training with the LSO within 10 days of the end of the placement
Articling students can be awarded an abridgement to reduce the length of the articling term based on compassionate grounds; or prior legal experience.
In addition LSO provides Articling Principals with resources outlining expectations in teaching and mentoring candidates and addressing challenges
In comparison, the Paralegal Placement program has zero LSO oversight. It is entirely the responsibility of one program placement coordinator at one of the 24 paralegal programs in Ontario.
Some quick facts about the Paralegal Placement Program:
How each college assesses the suitability of a field placement host may vary.
The field placement coordinator who doesn’t have to be a legal professional, is responsible for securing the placement and verifying the validity of a placement host
There is no opportunity for advanced standing for paralegal students (which means you may have worked in a legal office for decades but you’ll still have to complete a placement)
While some colleges work overtime to provide students with the best placements possible, that’s not the case across the board. It’s not even the case for every student at the same school.
One of the most important items on my platform is to improve paralegal education and provide students with the resources to help them in the real world. Right now, that’s not happening. While the education report released in February outlines necessary changes to strengthen paralegal competencies, it doesn’t address the structure of the current field placement program and lack of LSO oversight. I intend to bring this to the table. The fact is, even with an increase in placement hours, students aren’t getting quality placements and aren’t ready to practice once licensed——if they even get the far.
If elected, I intend to pursue this issue in order to improve the number of individuals entering this profession and the retention of those who do.
And as far as existing paralegals are concerned, I believe the years of lack of LSO oversight can be recompensed through LSO supported mentorship and sponsorship programs that support paralegals in their chosen fields or open access to new areas of work within the current paralegal scope.
See the information provided in the full video for yourself (information is current as of March 28):
Becoming an Articling Principal: https://lso.ca/becoming-licensed/lawyer-licensing-process/articling-principals/becoming-a-principal
Articling Principal Filing and Reporting: https://lso.ca/becoming-licensed/lawyer-licensing-process/articling-principals/filing-and-reporting
Articling Student Reduction in Length of Placement: https://lso.ca/becoming-licensed/lawyer-licensing-process/articling-candidates/reducing-the-length-of-a-placement
Paralegal Placement FAQs: https://lso.ca/becoming-licensed/paralegal-licensing-process/paralegal-education-program-accreditation/faqs-for-paralegal-education-programs#field-placement-6 (see Field Placement)