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

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 commentsflsr@lsuc.on.ca 

Published March 30, 2017  Copied from Windsor Star

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

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.

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

https://www.insidetoronto.com/community-story/8038272-north-york-paralegal-excited-services-could-expand-to-include-family-law

Published in the North York Mirror January 16, 2018

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.

BY MARSHALL YARMUS, SPECIAL TO THE SUN

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