Ontario paralegals could soon offer family law services

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Hundreds of Ontario’s paralegals will be delighted to learn that they will soon be able to offer a few in-demand family law legal services. In recent years, the number of people opting to represent themselves has become popular.

The Law Society of Ontario, which regulates both lawyers and paralegals, voted on December 1 on a commitment to develop a special licence that would initially support training for paralegals and others in navigating the family court process, completing forms, and possibly other areas outside the courtroom.

The Ministry of the Attorney General, would also “assess what additional family legal services by providers other than lawyers, including advocacy, are in the public interest,” meaning whether paralegals would also be allowed to appear in family court, according to the law society’s access to justice committee.

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To be sure, there has been plenty of resistance to allowing paralegals to offer family legal services and eventually appear in family court in the Ontario Court of Justice. Some of those very powerful voices of disapproval have come from the Family Lawyers Association, as well as a number of family court judges.

According to the report, 57 per cent of Ontarians did not have legal representation in family court in 2014-15.

There has been pushback to the idea of creating a specialized licencing for paralegals including family law.

Opposition against having paralegals has been because of the complexities involved in family law.

A paralegal becomes licensed after completing an approved paralegal program at a college and passing the law society’s paralegal licensing exam. Lawyers typically must complete an undergraduate university degree before then completing a law school degree, followed by two exams at the law society.

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Currently paralegals can act in small claims court, on provincial offences (non-criminal), in criminal matters known as summary conviction offences, where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months in prison and/or a $5,000 fine, and before administrative tribunals.

But then again, the reality is that a whopping 60 percent of litigants already represent themselves given the high cost of engaging the services of lawyers.

On the flip side, their inexperience often hurts their cases.

With the right training, paralegals will be in a position to offer more affordable services to people currently opting to represent themselves. – CINEWS

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