Paralegals Deserve Focused Training and Fair Assessment of Skills
One of the biggest issues before us today is expansion of scope. While I’m an advocate for expansion, I also recognize the ability to make these changes starts with standardizing education and improving the quality of the programs and training currently available to paralegals.
Limited competency has been the consistent answer to calls for expansion of the paralegal scope. However, this is not an individual problem, it’s a systemic one.
There are less than 10 law schools in Ontario. In comparison, there are 24 paralegal programs, all of which have been accredited by the Law Society of Ontario. Based on dozens of conversations with paralegals and students, it is clear not all of these programs are created equally and that greater LSO oversight is needed to ensure paralegals are getting what they’ve paid for—quality education that will lead to sustainable careers.
Quality education includes quality training. Currently, paralegal students are only required by the LSO to receive 120 placement hours. In comparison, students-at-law currently require a minimum of 8 months of articling to complete their training.
As a student, I was fortunate enough to complete my placement with a lawyer who sent me to court on my very first day. He also engaged me in practical experience for the entire 4 months of my placement. From reviewing disclosure, to set-dates and adjournments, to client meetings, drafting pleadings and legal research, I left that placement feeling like I’d learned something valuable that I could (and did) take with me into my new career. I considered that placement an incredible privilege (I’ll talk more about privilege as it relates to our careers in another post—stay tuned).
Unfortunately, not all of my classmates had the same experience. Many spent those four months answering phones, filing documents or simply sitting around waiting to do anything at all. For them, the placement experience was a waste of time (and money) and they entered their new careers with little to no experience at all.
As a placement host, I have seen firsthand how little oversight there is by the schools. And I get it. There are A LOT of students and only so much capacity. However, I believe it is the responsibility of the LSO to ensure students are getting what they pay for from the schools the LSO has accredited.
I also recognize that not all paralegals are at the same level. Some have been working in specific areas of law for several years and are well-known and sought after legal service providers with an abundance of skills and experience. A fair assessment of these skills is needed to allow for possible scope expansion that will lead to career growth for these individuals and greater access to justice for the public. This also applies to individuals who have practiced law in other countries.
Paralegals deserve quality education, focused training and a fair assessment of their developed skills.
Some of the items on my platform that are especially important to me are:
better LSO oversight of student placement programs for high-quality, better defined experiential training equal to the lawyer Experiential Training and Law Practice Program
specialized programs to ensure paralegals are competent and confident in particular areas of practice (immigration, human rights, consumer protection, social benefits, etc.)
an accreditation process that allows internationally trained legal professionals to more easily obtain a P1 License
What does this look like?
Placement programs accredited by, endorsed by and closely monitored by LSO that allow students to develop the practical skills necessary to practice in their desired area of law
Paralegal programs that include streaming options to allow students to focus on particular areas of law
An assessment process similar to the National Committee of Accreditation's that allows internationally trained legal professionals to prove their skills and receive exemptions to obtain the P1 License
Re-examination of the P1 license to consider various levels of competency for existing paralegals
Starting April 19, 2023, vote Deborah Moriah for bencher for a more inclusive, accessible and respected profession.
As your elected paralegal bencher, I will tirelessly advocate for reforms to the current paralegal placement programs, a re-examination of the current P1 licensing process and greater access to quality paralegal education.
I am running along with 4 other paralegals as part of the goodgovernancecoalition.ca/paralegals. While we have similar values, we each have our own platforms. The above reflects my unique views.