The Law Society of British Columbia has recently discontinued a pilot project which allowed designated paralegals to appear in court. However, that doesn’t mean the LSBC has given up plans to regulate paralegals; legislating the provision of legal services by non-lawyers is still very much on the plate, says LSBC president Herman Van Ommen.
“The main objective, which we’re pursuing, is legislative amendments that would allow us to create [classes of legal service providers like] paralegals,” Van Ommen told Legal Feeds, “so that we can create education requirements, and scope of practice, so we could have freestanding paralegals as you do in Ontario.”
The paralegals-in-court pilot project, which ran from January 2013 until autumn 2015, was part of the LSBC’s “access to justice” initiative. During this pilot project paralegals could independently make procedural appearances in court, for example, and book dates. However, only three members of B.C.’s 1,300-strong bar sent paralegals to court in their stead; this may be because paralegals are less commonly used in B.C. than in a jurisdiction such as Ontario, where about 7,500 paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
“I think the profession here didn’t know what they could do with paralegals” in court, says Van Ommen.
However, he stresses, the LSBC’s designated paralegal program continues. In 2013, 345 B.C. lawyers supervised designated paralegals (at a maximum of two per lawyer), and in 2015, 647 did so, says Van Ommen.
The LSBC defines a “designated paralegal” as “a paralegal who can perform additional duties under a lawyer’s supervision” such as giving legal advice to clients and appearing before tribunals, as permitted, or at family law mediations.
The title “designated paralegal” does not affix to the paralegal as a right, and the title does not transfer with the paralegal from job to job or from supervising lawyer to supervising lawyer, according to the LSBC’s website. “Designation is an active process by the supervising lawyer. Even if a lawyer has a designated paralegal, the role requires consideration on a case-by-case basis as to whether a particular matter is suitable to delegate to the designated paralegal.”
“We’ve given lawyers the authority to allow paralegals to do more than they could in the past,” Van Ommen explains, which is expected to lead to the regulation of paralegals. “The [B.C.] government has been very cooperative [and] supportive, and so we anticipate having legislation that will enable us to regulate and create classes like paralegals. Washington state has done something similar [and] we’ll be looking at Ontario when it comes to setting up classes of legal service providers. Ontario has a long history of this,” having been the first jurisdiction in North America to regulate paralegals, in 2007.
Regulation of paralegals, whose fees are much lower than those of lawyers, is “an important component” of access to justice for B.C. residents, says Van Ommen.
“We intend to proceed on that project,” he says: “the creation and regulation of paralegals. Anyone can call themselves a paralegal now . . . We want to create a class of legal service providers that may be called paralegals, with set-out scopes of practice and education requirements.
“Most of the existing paralegals will always remain working under the supervision of lawyers,” he adds. However, “when we create these classes [of legal service providers], hopefully some will take the education and do a lot more.”