Paralegal motion to have AG take control of legal services denied spot at LSO annual meeting

The Lawyer’s Daily Friday, May 06, 2022 @ 12:47 PM | By Amanda Jerome

A motion requesting the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) ask “the Attorney General to immediately assume regulatory control of the practice of law and provision of legal services” in Ontario has been denied a place on the annual general meeting’s (AGM) agenda. However, the paralegals who brought the motion plan to bring the issue up from the floor the night of the meeting either way.

“They’re [the LSO] not facilitating access to justice, which is their statutory duty, and something has to happen,” said Marshall Yarmus, the motion’s co-author.  

“Part of what we’re complaining about is the structure within the law society of having Convocation with 40 lawyers, five paralegals and eight lay people. Nothing can get done. So, either the Ontario government has to take over regulation of the law society or there has to be a change in the structure, so that they can properly facilitate access to justice and act in the public interest,” he added.

The motion raises the issue of paralegal regulation in family law, which has been debated by Convocation for years and has been under review since the release of Justice Annemarie Bonkalo’s Family Legal Services Review Report in 2016.

The motion notes that “in December 2017 the Law Society of Ontario through Convocation agreed in principle to allow paralegals to do Family Law work” and “the Access to Justice Committee took over four years to develop a comprehensive plan” which “placed an emphasis on educational and professional competencies to allow for paralegals to provide limited family law services.”

However, when it came time for Convocation to discuss the Access to Justice Committee’s report in February 2022, the report was pulled from the agenda.

Addressing Convocation at that time, treasurer Teresa Donnelly said the report received “valuable input from various stakeholders and this feedback requires further consideration.”

“As a result, that report is not, as you know, on our agenda today, and I’ll be considering next steps on how to move the access to legal services forward in this important area in a way that’s realistic and achievable,” she said.

Marshall Yarmus, co-author of paralegal motion

Marshall Yarmus, co-author of paralegal motion Yarmus, a former vice-president of the Paralegal Society of Ontario and the Paralegal Society of Canada, said since the motion was denied a place on the AGM’s agenda, “we’re going to raise this issue from the floor” on May 11 “and bring this to the attention of all those who attend the annual general meeting.”

“And then further, whoever wins the provincial election in June, we’ll be lobbying the Attorney General to take control of the regulation of legal services in Ontario, so that they can properly facilitate access to justice,” he added.

Yarmus said he “was never happy with the structure of the law society when they took over regulation of paralegals in 2007.”

“I knew it was not a system that would favour paralegals. The lawyers, with their entrenched status, would regulate paralegals in favour of lawyers and that’s the way it’s been,” he added.

Yarmus is looking for “the government to take over regulation permanently.”

Jennifer Wing, an LSO spokesperson, told The Lawyer’s Daily that the motion is “improper because it is outside the authority of licensees to make such decisions, is contrary to provisions in the bylaw, and ignores the legislated governance and fiduciary duties of benchers in Convocation.”

 She explained that “the LSO continues to consider how paralegals can provide certain family law services.”

“This is a complex issue, involving the regulatory obligation to protect the public balanced with the need for more flexible legal services options in support of family law client needs. We have been engaging with our justice sector partners to determine how best to move forward in this important area in a way that is realistic and achievable,” she added.

Yarmus stressed that paralegals are important for access to justice because they “charge less than lawyers for similar work.”

“And in a lot of areas that we practise in, we are the specialists, such as the Landlord and Tenant Board where you rarely see a lawyer, other than legal aid lawyers,” he said, noting that paralegals “facilitate access to justice in a better way than lawyers alone.”

“I’m disappointed that the treasurer doesn’t even want to debate the issue as to whether the law society is properly facilitating access to justice and acting in the public interest. I was surprised that she wouldn’t put this on the agenda for the AGM when it’s clear from the statistics in Justice Bonkalo’s [report] that 57 per cent of family law litigants are unrepresented. Something has to be done,” he said.

YARMUS: Should the Law Society of Ontario be dissolved for not acting in the public interest?

Unlike the government of Ontario which is accountable to the public at each election, the Law Society is not publicly accountable to anyone.

Author of the article:

Marshall Yarmus

Publishing date:

Apr 21, 2022  •  April 21, 2022  •  Toronto Sun    

The Law Society of Ontario has the statutory duties to facilitate access to justice for all of the people of Ontario and to act in the interest of the public.

In 2016, after years of pressure from paralegals and family court litigants, the attorney general and the Law Society appointed Justice Annemarie E. Bonkalo to study unmet legal needs in family court. Bonkalo found that the majority (57%) of family court litigants, through no fault of their own, other than not being able to afford a lawyer and being ineligible to qualify for legal aid, had to represent themselves in family court.

To increase the access to justice for litigants with family court matters, Bonkalo recommended that paralegals be allowed to provide some family court legal services.

The Law Society is responsible for the licensing and regulation of lawyers and paralegals in Ontario. Unlike most other provinces, in Ontario, paralegals have been representing clients independently of lawyers in small claims court, at the landlord and tenant board, traffic court, and other venues for decades. Paralegals are often more affordable and have more expertise than lawyers in the venues in which they specialize.

In December 2017, the Law Society’s board of directors, which consists of 40 lawyers, five paralegals and eight lay people, voted to have its committee recommend the education, licensing process, and limitations on what services a family law paralegal should be able to provide to the public.

In February 2022, a plan for family law paralegal training and services was submitted to the Law Society’s board of directors to be voted on. The result: The Law Society, bowing to pressure from family law lawyers and the judiciary, removed the plan from the agenda and cited that more study was needed. Obviously, four years of study was not enough!


In April 2022, a group of paralegals attempted to get a motion added to the agenda of the upcoming annual general meeting (AGM) of the Law Society in May 2022. The motion stated that the Law Society should approach the attorney general of Ontario to have the provincial government take over the regulation of lawyers and paralegals as the Law Society has failed in its statutory duty to act in the public interest and to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.

In response, the Law Society’s president, referred to as the treasurer, wrote that the motion would not be heard at the upcoming AGM as it would upset their board of directors’ ability to run the affairs of the society.

Unlike the government of Ontario which is accountable to the public at each election, the Law Society is not publicly accountable to anyone.

It is evident that by refusing to allow the paralegals’ motion to be added to the AGM agenda for its members to discuss whether the Law Society is properly facilitating access to justice, the Law Society is protecting the interests of its lawyer members and, in doing so, loses all credibility that it acts in the interest of Ontarians.

The Ontario government is responsible to address the unmet legal needs of Ontarians and it mandated the Law Society of Ontario to do the same. If the Law Society believes that it does not have to meet their mandate to facilitate access to justice for the public, maybe it should be dissolved.

— Marshall Yarmus is a Licensed Paralegal. He is the former Vice-president of both the Paralegal Society of Ontario and the Paralegal Society of Canada.