GUEST COLUMN: Paralegals in family court


It only took seven years of fighting with the Law Society of Upper Canada to get it to take the first steps towards allowing paralegals to offer some family law services.

The Law Society is the regulator of lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.
It is required to regulate in the public interest and to facilitate access to justice.

Most people wouldn’t pick a fight with their regulator; an organization that has the ability to suspend or revoke their licence.

I am not like most people.

On Dec. 1, 2017, the Law Society’s board of directors approved an action plan which included developing a specialized licence for paralegals with appropriate training to offer some family law services.

This licence will support training in such areas as navigating the court process, form completion, investigating forms, motions to change, uncontested divorces and possibly other areas outside the courtroom context.

At the same time, the Law Society will assess what additional family law services paralegals can offer, including advocacy inside the courtroom, and consider how to develop a further expanded licence.

What led to this announcement?

I and other paralegals were receiving calls from people who had family law disputes, but did not have the money to hire a lawyer.
In 2010, I scheduled a motion to be heard at the Law Society’s annual general meeting.

It asked the Law Society to study the barriers to allowing paralegals to offer some family law services.

I debated family law lawyers on this issue on radio and television.

Ultimately, the motion was withdrawn prior to being heard based on a commitment to study the issue.

In February, 2011 the elected leader of the Law Society announced she would undertake a study to determine if paralegals should be allowed to do family law work.

Only one report was released before the initiative was abandoned.

In 2013, I again led a group of paralegals who scheduled a motion to be heard at the Law Society’s annual general meeting.

Hundreds of lawyers showed up to oppose this non-binding vote, only to find the motion had been withdrawn hours earlier.

Since 2013, I have written a number of newspapers articles criticizing the Law Society for failing to address this issue.

Some family lawyers argued family law was too complicated for paralegals to handle.

They said paralegals could handle small claims court, landlord and tenant board and provincial offences cases, and represent people in other courts and tribunals, but not family law where the stakes were too high.

In 2016, the Attorney General and the Law Society appointed Justice Annemarie Bonkalo to study the issue and write a report.

Justice Bonkolo made 31 recommendations to improve the family court system, including having paralegals with a special licence being allowed to prepare forms and do some family court advocacy work.

Following Justice Bonkalo’s report the Law Society and the Attorney General began to develop an action plan.

The Dec. 1, 2017 approval of this action plan marked the beginning of the path towards the public having an option of legal providers for family law matters.

It will take time to develop the curriculum and train paralegals in family law.

However, I am proud to have been one of the main motivators for the Law Society to address this lack of access to justice issue.

Yarmus is a licensed Toronto paralegal at the firm Civil Litigations.

GUEST COLUMN: Paralegals in family court

Published in the Toronto Sun January 6, 2018

North York paralegal ‘excited’ services could expand to include family law

A North York based paralegal is ‘excited’ that his seven-year fight to have his profession be allowed to offer some family law services to clients is one step closer to fruition.

The Law Society of Ontario, which regulates lawyers and paralegals, voted last month to commit to develop a special license which would support training for paralegals in dealing with some family law services.
“I’m excited,” said Marshall Yarmus of Civil Litigations Paralegal Services. “Finally – it’s been seven years working at this.”

The special licence will support training in navigating the court process, form completion, investigating forms such as financial, motions to change, and uncontested divorces, and possibly other areas outside the courtroom, he said.

“(Family law) is the one area I get the most phone calls about,” said Yarmus, a paralegal for the past 21 years who currently works near Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue. “People can’t afford lawyers or can’t afford to keep lawyers on their case.”

The Dec. 1 decision followed a report from the former chief justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, who was tasked by the law society and the Attorney General to consider whether a broader range of service providers could deliver certain family legal services.

The report prepared by Justice Annemarie Bonkalo noted 21 recommendations, including a special licence to allow paralegals to provide certain types of family legal services such as custody and simple divorces without property.

In 2014 to 2015, more than 57 per cent of Ontarians did not have legal representation in family court, according to the Law Society of Ontario.

Currently, paralegals can act in small claims court, on non-criminal provincial offences, in criminal matters where the maximum penalty doesn’t exceed six months in prison and/or a $5,000 fine, and before administrative tribunals.

Details remain vague and a timeline has not been set, but Yarmus estimates it will be a “couple years” before paralegals are allowed in family court, adding he’s in favour of specialized licenses.

“If we can pass the special test, then we should be allowed (to deal with family law),” he said.

by Fannie Sunshine
Fannie Sunshine is a reporter for Metroland Media Toronto

Published in the North York Mirror January 16, 2018

Questions commonly posed to paralegals

In this article I will address some frequently asked questions paralegals who specialize in small claims court representation receive.

I have a judgment. How do I collect my money?

The small claims court does not collect a judgment for you. You must take steps to collect. There are four methods available through the court. They are: writ of seizure and sale of lands, a writ of seizure and sale of personal property, a garnishment and a judgment debtor examination. How much information you have on the debtor will determine which is the best method for your case.

A writ of seizure and sale of lands effectively acts as lien against real estate owned by the debtor. You are allowed to force the sale of the property. However, the cost to you to do that is so much that forcing a sale is rarely pursued.

A writ of seizure and sale of personal property is, in my opinion, a last resort. The sheriff is not allowed to enter a person’s home to seize anything. In the case of an individual debtor this method is usually restricted to seizure and sale of a car. To seize a car you will need to do searches to prove the debtor owns the car outright. It cannot have a lien against it. The sheriff will want between a $1,000 and $3,000 deposit before seizing and selling a car.

A garnishment is a court order forcing either an employer, a bank, or a company who owes money to be a business debtor for accounts receivable to pay the money to the court. If you have the necessary information, this is the best tool to force payment of the judgment.

A judgment debtor examination allows you to ask almost any questions of the debtor regarding their past, present and future ability to pay. Used properly by someone who knows what to ask this is powerful method to collect information to help you enforce the judgment. However, since debtors don’t always show up for the scheduled hearing, you should only use this if you don’t have information on the debtor.

How much does a paralegal charge for a small claims court case?

Like every profession, different people charge different rates. You usually get what you pay for. The lowest priced paralegal may not be the best choice. Some of the factors paralegals consider in determining their price are: their years of experience, whether they specialize in that area, the difficulty of the matter and importance of the matter to the client, and special circumstances, such as the loss of other retainers, postponement of payment, uncertainty of reward, or urgency.

Paralegals may charge based on an hourly rate, a flat fee for a particular portion of the case or the entire case, or on a contingency basis.

An hourly fee seems straight forward. However, small claims court cases often do not proceed as planned. There could be unexpected motions to the court, an amendment of a claim or defence, the need to defend a claim by brought by the Defendant, or more than one settlement conference.

In a flat fee also known as a block fee arrangement, the paralegal may take the risk by changing a known and agreed fee in advance that unexpected things don’t happen that require more of their time than expected.

A contingency fee is where a paralegal’s fee is based on a percentage of the amount recovered from the debtor. The paralegal is entitled to request the client pay the out of pocket expenses in advance. Since the paralegal is taking the risk here and delaying payment of any fees until money is recovered, you could pay the most fees though this method.

Paralegals able to help during court matters

Individuals and businesses use the small claims court to sue for money owed for a wide variety of reasons where the amount owing is $25,000 or less. The court also has the power to order return of property not exceeding that value.

The government just announced starting a new court action can now be done online for all types of claims province-wide, through a secure government website.

The Ontario government wants to make the court more accessible, by offering this new online filing service. However, just because it is easier to file documents doesn’t mean the small claims court procedures are easy to navigate.

Many people attempt to represent themselves in the small claims court. They have that ‘do it yourself’ attitude. They mistakenly believe the small claims court is like American courtroom reality television. Nothing can be further from the truth. Forms must be filed correctly. Procedures must be followed. A trial in Ontario looks nothing like television.

Court staff can give you general information procedures on how to complete forms, but they are not supposed to give legal advice.

This doesn’t stop people from asking court staff for legal advice when the case becomes complicated. A staff member may even give advice which they shouldn’t. Since court staff are not legally trained, the advice given, although well meaning, may be wrong. Unless the person gets professional legal advice the error may prove costly.

When your case becomes complicated, or you need someone who has knowledge of the rules of the court, the evidence and witnesses needed, and the particular law concerning the facts of your case you should turn to a licensed paralegal or a lawyer.

Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America where a paralegal is a trained and educated professional, who is licensed, insured, and regulated. Paralegals are authorized to provide legal services directly to the public. A paralegal in Ontario can represent you with your legal matter by offering you legal advice, filling out forms, and representing you at trial in certain courts (including small claims court) and tribunals.

The small claims court process starts out by completing and issuing a Plaintiff’s Claim. The party being sued must file a defense with the court within 20 days of service. If this is done, the matter will be scheduled for a settlement conference before a judge or a mediator. This, in my opinion, is the most important hearing. Selfrepresented litigants may not recognize its significance.

A judge at a settlement conference has the power to make a number of orders, including dismissing a claim which has no merit, and to order the opposing side to produce documents which helps your case. If you don’t know to ask the judge to make a specific order, this may hurt your case.

The settlement conference is a great opportunity to allow the parties to come to an agreement on their own. It is a much better outcome than having a trial judge impose a decision. You could go to trial and get an order the other side owes you money. It is then up to you to collect through the process available through the court.

If the case is not settled, you will end up at trial. Here, you must present your case to the judge in an organized and understandable manner. Licensed paralegals and lawyers who specialize in small claims court representation know how to prepare a case for trial. They know how to question the opposing side’s witnesses. Cases are often won or lost based on this skill which can take years to learn properly.

Do you have a general question about small claims court procedures? Fax or e-mail your questions to info@getlegal-resultsca 1-877-931-1011. The best questions will be answered in the next edition of this article.

Proposed Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act

The Ontario government is seeking written submissions until the June 30, 2016 on proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act. The RTA effects every residential landlord and tenant; particularly those who have evictions applications heard in the provincially run Landlord and Tenant Board.

The proposed changes are made with intention of encouraging small landlords to provide rental housing. The proposal can be found at

Tenant groups are up in arms, stating that the proposed changes would make it too easy for a tenant to be evicted. Will newly appointed Minister of Housing Chris Ballard, follow though under the criticism of these tenant groups and makes changes favouring small landlords?

The current RTA puts too many obstacles in place for a landlord to evict a tenant. I believe some changes are necessary. I am a licensed paralegal with 20 years experience representing at the Landlord and Tenant Board.

The RTA is so complex and confusing for small landlords. With an eviction of a tenant being so important, and so much money on the line if an eviction is denied, I don’t understand why some small landlords represent themselves at the Landlord and Tenant Board. Understanding the RTA, case law, knowing what evidence is relevant, and how to properly ask questions of the opposing side and their witnesses is a skill which takes years to learn.

The large scale landlords know the law. Still, they always hire a licensed paralegal or lawyer to represent them at the hearing.

An application to evict a tenant at the LTB can be dismissed for technical reasons. Some notices of termination given to tenant must have very detailed information with dates and actions of the tenant noted in order to support an eviction. Other reasons applications are dismissed are due to minor errors such as failing to name all the tenants, as well as failing to enter an apartment number on the form.

One of the proposals the government is seeking writing submissions on is to further clarify provisions for substantial compliance with the RTA with respect to the content of certain forms, notices and other documents.

The notices of eviction are not complicated to complete. I can see why landlords think it is simple enough to do themselves. The test is whether the notice of eviction is filled out with enough information to comply with the RTA and the case law. If not, the board member must dismiss the eviction application.

If the proposed changes are made, maybe I won’t have as many small landlords coming to me for representation after their application is dismissed for failure to properly complete the notice. When an application is dismissed for these technical reasons at least I can help the landlord.

When a landlord self-represents and the application is dismissed after a full hearing as they did not have enough evidence, didn’t know how to ask questions the tenant, or didn’t know the law, I am limited in the help I can provide. I can request a review of the decision by another arbitrator at the LTB if there was a serious error in making a decision. If that is unsuccessful, usually the landlord’s only other option is to hire a lawyer to file an appeal with the Divisional Court. An appeal can take many months and thousands of dollars before it is heard.

Another common problem is cases involving an eviction where the landlord or a close family member requires the apartment for their own use. The law is clear. The person who wants to live in the apartment must file an affidavit with the board. If you show up at the hearing without this affidavit, your application will be dismissed.

The government is looking at a proposal to allow landlords and tenants to file unsworn statements in support of applications and motions, rather than affidavits.

At a hearing for non-payments of rent a tenant can without any notice to the landlord, raise issues as if they had filed their own application. Some of the more common allegations are the landlord entered my unit illegally, the landlord harassed me, and the landlord failed to make repairs. If the tenant is successful at proving these allegations, not only must the board consider delaying or denying an eviction, but the board can also order the landlord to pay money to the tenant for these breaches of the RTA.

The government is seeking submissions on a proposal to require tenants to disclose any issues that they intend to raise at rental arrears eviction hearings to the landlord prior to the hearing. This would prevent these surprise arguments.

These are just a few of the ideas the government is considering to improve the eviction process. Unless or until these changes are made to the RTA, the best advice I can give any small landlord is to hire a licensed paralegal to represent them at any LTB hearing.

Published June 22, 2016  –  copied from

Do’s and don’ts of small claims court

Is small claims court now too complicated for the average person to represent himself or herself? Many people’s only interaction with the civil courts in Ontario will be through small claims court. Currently you can sue for money damages of up to $25,000 or the return of personal property not exceeding that amount. Ontario small claims court bears no resemblance to American television shows. The judge does not take an active role in questioning witnesses. You do.

Cases can be won or lost based on your ability to effectively question the opposing side’s witnesses. Small claims court is far less complicated than the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. But that may be of little comfort to the litigant who is trying to go through the steps of bringing an action to trial, obtain judgment and successfully collect their money. At the courthouse, many people can be seen clutching court forms, trying to navigate their way through the system. The court clerks can only give general information on procedures, not legal advice.

When cases become too complicated, people and companies often hire a licensed paralegal or a lawyer to represent them. They are the experts at navigating this mine field.

At the first hearing of a defended claim, the parties meet in front of a deputy judge or mediator to try to settle the case. At this settlement conference judges sometimes urge a person with a complicated case to hire a paralegal or lawyer. Trials are measured in hours, a day, or multiple days. The formal procedures for hearing evidence, marking documents as exhibits and questioning witnesses take far longer than what is seen on so-called reality court television shows.

Dr. Julie Macfarlane released a report on self-represented litigants in 2013.In it she found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of litigants who decide to self-represent do so because they cannot afford representation. Another reason for people self-representing was that they were attracted to the do-it-yourself approach. Many believed they could handle the case themselves because so much information was available on the Internet.

But a losing party at trial has more to worry about than paying the opposing side’s representation fee. A self-represented party can lose a case in large part due to not knowing how to properly present it to the judge. This requires calling the necessary witnesses, asking them the right questions, knowing what to ask witnesses appearing for the other side, presenting the relevant documents and summarizing the law and the facts to the judge.

Many people know they can hire a lawyer but many don’t know licensed paralegals can represent them in small claims court.

Those who choose to self-represent against a seasoned paralegal or lawyer are at a severe disadvantage. Many people think success in small claims is easier than the reality.After almost every trial there is one party who is unhappy. Settlement should be encouraged at every stage of the action.

The problem is not the court system. The rules and procedures are there to make sure the process is fair. But litigants need to understand that when a case becomes too complicated to represent themselves, they should hire a legal professional. Finally, the smartest and happiest litigants are usually those who compromise and come to a settlement before trial.

January 7, 2016  Copied from

Guest Contributor: Should paralegals be allowed to practice in family court?

If you are involved in a family court case in Ontario and cannot afford a lawyer, should you have the option of hiring a paralegal? Justice Annemarie Bonkalo was tasked by the attorney general and the Law Society of Upper Canada to study this issue and write a report.

The Family Legal Services Review report was recently released. It makes a number of recommendations to improve access to justice in family court. The most controversial of the recommendations was that licensed paralegals in Ontario should be able to obtain a specialized licence to be permitted to represent in family court on certain matters.

There are currently over 8,000 paralegals in Ontario licensed by the law society. Most work independent of lawyers. These are the people you call to fight traffic tickets, as well as to represent you in small claims court, at the landlord and tenant board, in criminal court for certain offences and at other tribunals.

The report states that 57 per cent of people go unrepresented in family court as they cannot afford a lawyer. Yet, they make more than the poverty wages required to qualify for legal aid.

The response to this report by some lawyer organizations and even some judges was predictable. They would have you believe that family law is too complicated for paralegals. Paralegals don’t have the education necessary to represent in court. Paralegals should be supervised by lawyers.

First and foremost, paralegals and the judge who wrote the report just want the people of Ontario to have access to justice. This issue is too important to you for there to be a turf war between lawyers and paralegals.

Paralegals currently provide services in many courts and tribunals. We deal with complex laws and their interpretation every day. Family law would be just one more area to learn and apply the laws.

The lawyer groups are correct that paralegals do not have the education today to work in family court. Courses still need to be developed. Stringent specialized licensing tests still need to be prepared. The lawyers who are specialists in the field should be involved in making sure that the course materials set a high bar for paralegals who want to practise family law. We want to provide you affordable access to justice, but not for the sake of a low quality education.

There are places in Canada and the United States where paralegals operate only under the supervision of lawyers. That has never been the model in Ontario. Paralegals have operated independent of lawyers for decades. They have been regulated and licensed since 2008.

The benefit to the consumer of a paralegal working independent of a lawyer is that the consumer does not receive a lawyer’s hefty bill for work done by a paralegal. It would defeat the intended increased access to justice if paralegals were required to work on family law matters under the supervision of a lawyer. New lawyers are permitted to appear in family court without the supervision of a senior lawyer.

The Ministry of the Attorney General and the law society are developing an action plan as a result of the Family Legal Services report. The action plan will be released by the fall of 2017. You are invited to send feedback based on Justice Bonkalo’s report no later than May 15 to 


Published March 30, 2017  Copied from Windsor Star

Guest Contributor: Should paralegals be allowed to practise in family court?