LSO strengthens paralegal competence framework, amends Rules of Practice and Procedure

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (February 23, 2023, 3:00 PM EST) -- After consulting with the paralegal profession, the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has created a “robust” plan to strengthen the paralegal competence framework, which includes policy modifications that will help “prepare graduates to confidently enter the profession” and longer field placements.

Convocation, meeting virtually on Feb. 23, heard from the Paralegal Standing Committee before moving on to approve amendments to the Law Society Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure. The majority of Convocation’s agenda, including a Law Society Complaints Resolution Commissioner Selection Committee report and treasurer reports, were dealt with in-camera.

Michelle Lomazzo, chair of the Paralegal Standing Committee, introduced the framework plan to Convocation, noting “we’re all aware that Ontario has significant access to justice issues.”

Michelle Lomazzo, chair of Paralegal Standing Committee

Michelle Lomazzo, chair of Paralegal Standing Committee

“Many Ontarians face a wide array of critically important issues before Ontario’s courts and tribunals. They’re unable or unwilling to retain lawyers, but they do not feel confident representing themselves. Paralegals are responding to those issues, providing high quality legal services cost effectively. This report seeks to build on the paralegal successes to date and chart a course that will inspire more paralegals to join the profession and improve access to justice for all Ontarians,” she explained.

Lomazzo noted that 2022 was the “15 year anniversary of paralegal regulation in Ontario.” The Paralegal Standing Committee, therefore, took the opportunity to “consult with the paralegal profession and stakeholders to learn more about the status of the profession and consider what, if any changes, should be made to the competence framework.”

“While the committee heard many success stories of paralegals providing more and better access to justice, it also heard that many paralegal graduates do not feel adequately prepared to independently provide legal services and establish a practice. To address these challenges, the committee developed and is implementing the robust plan that is outlined in the report,” she said, summarizing four main parts of the plan.

First, she noted there will be “policy modifications that will help to prepare graduates to confidently enter the profession.”

These modifications include “capping the length of individual classes, increasing minimum instructional hours for certain compulsory legal courses, [and] increasing the standards for faculty and program co-ordinators.”

Second, will be “lengthening the field placement from about three weeks to six weeks to provide paralegal students with more workplace experience.”

“Third, publishing anonymized paralegal licensing exam results, including overall outcomes, as well by college, to increase transparency and recognize the high entry level standards that paralegals are required to meet to join the profession,” she added.

“Fourth, providing additional resources, including a web page and other materials that will help paralegals to be aware of and practise beyond the most prominent paralegal practice areas,” she concluded, noting that these “measures build on the accomplishments and successes of paralegal regulation.”

Lomazzo also highlighted “the Bridge to Practice for recently licensed paralegals to provide easy on demand access to important CPDs; the Practice Essentials course to be launched in 2024 for paralegals who are starting sole proprietorships; and a Rights of Appearance Framework for paralegal students and candidates that will clarify that paralegal students and candidates can appear before tribunals and courts where relevant.”

“Many of the measures outlined here have been requested by students and leaders in the paralegal community for many years. We believe that all of these reforms, taken together, will enhance the capacity of paralegal graduates to provide legal services effectively and competently. This in turn, will result in better services for the public and more choices for Ontarians,” she emphasized.

Ryan Alford, vice-chair of Tribunal Committee

Ryan Alford, vice-chair of Tribunal Committee

Ryan Alford, vice-chair of the Tribunal Committee, presented the motion for amendments to the Tribunal Rules of Practice and Procedure regarding transcripts.

“Recently, at the Appeal Division, there have been a number of motions brought by appellants seeking orders that the law society be required to order and pay for the requested transcripts, often citing the expensive transcripts as prohibitive and in order to perfect their appeals to the Appeal Division of Tribunal,” he explained, noting that “currently, rule 17.3 requires that appellants must serve and file ‘any transcripts not filed in the hearing division proceeding.’ ”

This rule, Alford said, “contemplates that some transcripts may already have been filed with the Tribunal, but otherwise it requires that appellants obtain and pay for transcripts of the hearing below.”

He also noted that “because it’s so broadly drawn, rule 17.3 as currently written, requires transcripts for the entire hearing, including those of submissions and on motions.”

“While there may be cases in which fairness requires that the appeal panel have transcripts of the submissions below, that is, in fact, quite unusual and invariably, this requires opponents to pay for transcripts of submissions in that situation and imposes an unnecessary cost on the appellants,” he explained.

“It’s not possible for us as a committee to draft blanket all-or-nothing type rules. There may be cases when it is useful, and indeed necessary, for the transcripts for all, or part, of hearing submissions to form part of the record on the field because it may be the case that” submissions are “at issue,” he said, noting also that other “positions taken by a party” may be “relevant on the appeal for other reasons.”  

The proposed amendment to rule 17.3 “does not limit what may be filed, but rather provides for what will be required for the appellant to perfect the appeal,” he added,

The proposed amendment allows in 17.3(2) “to have a decision to admit material if requested,” Alford explained, noting “there’s also the possibility that the appellant and the respondent agree that certain materials are not required for the perfection of the appeal.”

The committee, he noted, felt that this “strikes the correct balance, that is going to eliminate the unnecessary expense, and indeed the requirement of adjudicating motions on this particular issue where the appellant claims that the cost of ordering such transcripts is prohibitive.”

The motion to amend was passed unanimously.

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