More than 37,000 people are employed as paralegals/legal assistants throughout Canada. Paralegal and legal assistant employment will continue to experience growth as in-house legal departments grow and new areas of practice open. Paralegals and legal assistants are represented nationally by two professional paralegal associations, the Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP) and the Paralegal Society of Canada (PSC).
According to the Canadian Association of Paralegals, paralegals are defined as:
“Professionals who are qualified by education, training and experience to engage in substantive legal work including managerial or administrative duties, working independently but under the ultimate direction of a lawyer. The work performed by paralegals is generally of a nature that requires sufficient knowledge of legal concepts such that, in the absence of a paralegal, a lawyer would perform those duties.”
Different Practices Throughout Canada
A legal assistant or paralegal’s role can be different and varies by province depending on regulation, regional preferences and employer. Paralegals may be called law clerks, legal assistants, legal technicians, and technical clerks. No matter what title is provided, legal assistants and paralegals must be supervised by a lawyer and cannot engage in the practice of law.
Currently in Canada, Ontario is the only jurisdiction where paralegals are licensed and the profession is regulated as officers of the court. In Ontario, there is a clear difference between paralegals and other legal professionals such as law clerks and legal assistants. Ontario’s Bill 14 of the Access to Justice Act allows independent paralegals to become licensed through The Law Society of Upper Canada. Once they become licensed, paralegals are not required to work under the direct supervision of a lawyer when performing certain legal functions, including representing businesses and individuals in court as permitted by their license. Persons who are not licensed and work under the supervision of lawyers are not considered paralegals in Ontario, even though they might be providing the same services as people who are called “paralegals” in other parts of the country.
Duties and Responsibilities
According to the Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP), typical paralegal job responsibilities include: drafting documents, conducting legal research, assisting with transactions effecting registrations, and communicating with clients.
Senior paralegals may be incorporated into the management of a law firm providing training for staff, offering internal education programs, helping develop the business, and managing and administering their department.
Places of Employment
The majority of paralegals and legal assistants work in law firms and law offices throughout Canada. However, there are some paralegals and legal assistants who are finding work elsewhere. Government offices are also steady employers of paralegals. CAP members report that paralegals and legal assistants are working in positions such as; legal aid clinics, community legal clinics, research firms, marketing firms, banks and financial service institutions, investment firms and educational institutions, with new opportunities developing continually. Paralegals may also be self-employed working as contract paralegals or, if working in Ontario, as independent licensed paralegals.
Paralegals in Alberta
Paralegals are not regulated by statute in Alberta and work under the supervision of a lawyer or justice/judge. Some law firms use the title “paralegal”, while others may not recognize the title and will use other titles such as “law clerk”. Paralegals are not permitted to give legal advice to clients without a lawyer’s authorization, to provide legal opinions, to discuss fees with clients or to represent themselves as lawyers.
The Alberta Association of Professional Paralegals (AAPP) indicates the difference between a legal assistant and paralegal is that a legal assistant assists in the administration of the law practice while paralegals assist on the legal side; legal assistants can receive instruction from both the lawyer and a paralegal. Usually legal assistants do not bill their time to clients while the paralegal does.
The Law Society of Alberta indicates that there is no governing body and there is no minimum or consistent standards of education, training or competence for paralegals, legal agents and legal assistants in Alberta.
For legal assistants to transition into a paralegal role in Alberta, due to the variance in criteria across different law offices, it is best to discuss whether this is an option at your firm with your HR manager, administrator or lawyer.
Paralegal = years of experience + education + establishing a trust level with your lawyer/law firm (AAPP)