One less-travelled paralegal pathway | Michelle Lomazzo

By Michelle Lomazzo

Law360 Canada (January 18, 2023, 8:06 AM EST) --
Michelle Lomazzo
Michelle Lomazzo
I’ve previously written about the inspiring skill sets of paralegals across Ontario and the numerous unique practice areas. One area that is less common for paralegals to appear is in statutory accident benefits schedule (SABS) appeals before the Licence Appeal Tribunal (LAT).

I discussed this practice area with Gerri Camus, a well-respected Toronto paralegal who has seriously mastered her craft as a legal advocate in automobile accident benefits, including LAT. She represents her clients before the LAT which is an independent, quasi-judicial agency and is one of 13 tribunals at Tribunals Ontario. Largely, the LAT adjudicates applications and resolves disputes for compensation claims.

Gerri has a successful background in both medicine, specifically nursing and in business management. Her strong and varied background in addition to her life experience and a solid reliable mentor provided her with the essential skills to manage her own legal practice in SABS including appeals and case management conference hearings.

How did Gerri discover this unique practice area? Was it by chance or design? In Gerri’s case, it was by chance. She had been primarily litigating in small claims court when she happened to be chatting with a senior paralegal member who worked with a lawyer in the field of statutory accident benefits. This senior paralegal shared her opinion with Gerri that focusing in the SABS area of practice would be a good fit for her existing skill set and Gerri started along that path with a good mentor.

Gerri suggests that new paralegals wishing to enter the field of SABS advocacy follow one of two paths to acquire the knowledge and experience required to competently advocate for their clients and to ensure success in this area of practice: one, work for a paralegal or a lawyer focusing on this area of law to learn the ropes or if you’re entrepreneurial, are sufficiently capitalized, self-motivated and a quick learner, hang your own shingle and work hard to develop a name for yourself, as long as you have a mentor you can count on. Consider job shadowing with someone who does SABS or agree to work with a personal injury firm, so you can learn the ropes.

It’s important to understand that your clients in this field of practice lean on you and look to you for step-by-step guidance. They are often in a bad place, vulnerable and injured, sometimes both physically and psychologically, and they come to you as a SABS legal practitioner for your knowledge and expertise. Success in this area of law requires not only skill but empathy and patience, with many claims taking on average between two and four years. Clients need assistance filling out forms and navigating the process, as well as legal representation at hearings. If you’re not empathetic or patient, Gerri says you are doing your clients a huge disservice. Given their injuries, they need this from you as much as your expertise. If you’re looking for quick results, this area of practice will not be a good fit for you.

It’s important to understand that you must have financial “staying power” since it may be years before you are paid as payment is primarily by contingency. You will need significant financial resources and a background in business or as an entrepreneur will help you be successful. Gerri says this cannot be understated. In her case, her medical background was additionally helpful because it assisted in understanding her client’s medical situations. If you don’t have a background in medicine, you can educate yourself with medical terminology courses. Gerri emphasized that not unlike any new business, a paralegal practice usually needs a good two to five years to get off the ground.

Gerri’s tips for success are to stay informed and up-to-date. Like many areas of practice, the laws change and there’s always new case law. It’s important to remain current and over time, you will become more proficient and more discerning with clients. Gerri also recommends networking. It is the best way to meet others in your area of practice and to share useful ideas and knowledge.

Are paralegals needed in this area of practice? Absolutely. Paralegals can establish a personally rewarding and financially successful practice in SABS while at the same time enhancing access to justice.

Gerri is not only a dynamo paralegal sole practitioner, she is also the vice-president and co-founder of the Women’s Paralegal Association of Ontario, a not-for-profit association dedicated to advancing issues and causes relevant to women in the paralegal profession as well as mentorship and support. They offer innovation and education within a reputable support network for women and have over 1,000 members.

Michelle Lomazzo was elected a paralegal bencher at the Law Society of Ontario in 2019. She has worked as an injured worker advocate for several years in Windsor, Ont. Through her legal services practice, Lomazzo Workers Compensation Appeals Professional Corporation, she specializes in workers compensation appeals before the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and regularly appears before the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT).  

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The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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