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I attended the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Annual General Meeting last night in support of a withdrawn motion to explore the expansion of the paralegal scope of practice.  After some discussion during the meeting and after with colleagues, I am reminded of a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth when Banquo counsels the Thane of Cawdor:

“–And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths; win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence.”

Darkness

First:  The group of Paralegals were, quite frankly, unprepared.  This, being the second time that Paralegals have pulled their motion at the eleventh hour does not help us to advance the expansion of the paralegal scope of practice.  I have made comments in other posting groups that set out what we have done with this motion.  We put the cart that has no wheels in front of the lame horse.

Second:  Lawyers still regard Paralegals as incompetent.  Paralegals have remained off of their radar since regulation, and it would have remained so, but for the scratching away at their turf  by Paralegals.  The Lawyer’s foundation of their argument lies in the belief that Paralegals and Lawyers are not equal.  There are exceptional Paralegals who could and should pass as lawyers; there are also terrible Paralegals that embarrass us to no end.  The same can be said of Lawyers; there are good ones and bad ones.

Third:  Paralegals are divided as well.  The motion in of itself was brought without the support of all Paralegals and I did take note that John Tzanis of the Paralegal Society of Ontario did not rise to speak as did the President of the Ontario Barristers Association to “extend the olive branch.”  A missed opportunity.  Mr. Tzanis  explained to its members the reasons why the motion was pulled.  The President of the Paralegal Society of Ontario felt that he did not have a mandate from its own members to push this resolution through.  If Paralegals want an expanded scope of practice, then it has to be engaged with its leaders, and leaders have to have the vision to create exactly what their members want.

Truths

Expanding the paralegal scope of practice needs deep foundation work.  Not for one moment do I believe that I could take on a ‘simple’ will or a ‘simple’ divorce without going back to school and undergo additional training  in those areas of law.  It is the key argument of every Lawyer in that room.  Their answer:  go to law school and become a lawyer.  Our answer:  ?  What would be the limit to where we would go in family law?  To what extent can we draft wills or power of attorney documents?  The Law Society should not have a mandate of:  “Paralegals should be in family law and wills/estates because of Access to Justice, and let’s ask a lot of questions about it.”  It should be a mandate of:  “Access to Justice has to address the problem of family law [for an example], this is where we [paralegals] think we fit in, so let’s vote on this plan of action.”  That plan of action, by the way, has to address how we paralegals are going to train up to meet the task we have agreed to take on.

Paralegals have to accept the fact that we are not equal.  That is a bitter pill to swallow.  It is only the arenas that we have access to, and the rules of those arenas that create equality between Lawyers and Paralegals.  At the Law Society’s AGM, the Treasurer  Thomas Conway expressed that as licensees, we are equal.  I respectfully submit that we are not.  The by-laws have separate elections for Lawyer Benchers and Paralegal Benchers.  The only Paralegals that can be Benchers are those Paralegals elected to the Paralegal Standing Committee.  Is that equal?

I remember a Barrister speaking at the AGM complaining about paralegals being described as “lawyers” or “advocates” when translating it to another language from English.  I posit that there is no other word for “paralegal” , other than the French “parajuriste”, that exists in other languages.

Paralegals need to get their house in order.  Part of it can be explained away.  The Paralegal Society of Ontario and the Licensed Paralegal Association are still in the throes of a merger.  I attribute no fault there.  However, once the merger is complete, the newly constituted PSO has to act and behave more like the Ontario Bar Association in its presentation of issues it wishes to champion–and champion them from the beginning to where it wants to be.  The extremes of old-guard, lone-wolf paralegals who wore the badge before regulation versus the young pups of those who hold paralegal diplomas with passion and pride since regulation have to give up the notion that running headlong into a brick wall, shake it off, then try again until you achieve success is not effective.  It’s not worth the headache.  We should be selling a complete program, not a part of one.  When one buys a car, you seldom buy one a piece at time; a motor here, a wheel there, a horn on layaway.  People like to see a complete Cadillac.

Lawyers are still unprepared to look at new ways at approaching the problems faced by the legal profession as a whole.  With the “extremist” bickering by the barristers & solicitors, they seem content on facing unrepresented litigants and accept the status quo, especially in family law.

When the Attorney General for the Province of Ontario decided that regulation of Paralegals were to be governed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Minister created another stake-holder in the justice system.  Lawyers do not seem willing to acknowledge that quite yet.

Honest Trifles

When evaluating the results of last night’s non-vote on a withdrawn issue, two things seem clear to me.

Paralegals are becoming more engaged with their profession.  This is a good thing.  It was the Paralegals that closed the room last night, nary a lawyer in sight.  Paralegals excitement to provide Access to Justice is definitely building.

What was also clear was that, when other Lawyers were trying to remember a more contentious issue before the AGM, Paralegals have awoken a self-absorbed and complacent legal profession.  We are now starting to control the Agenda and must continue the debate thereafter.  So much so, that the name Paralegal must be synonymous with Access to Justice.

 

Your comments on this subject are always appreciated.