The BC Paralegal Association membership is in strong support of licensing by the Law Society of B.C., says association president Michele Ross.
The BCPA has carried out a survey of membership asking whether they favour licensing through the LSBC and a high percentage of the membership have indicated they want LSBC licensing, Ross says. Currently, there is no legal definition of a paralegal and proposed legislative changes seen in Bill 57 would provide some definition with the term “licensed paralegal,” she says.
Ross says that, right now, anyone can use the term paralegal even if they have not completed four years of training. Placing the term licensed paralegal within the scope of the legislation and jurisdiction of the LSBC — which would set the terms and conditions of a licensed paralegal — would enhance the credibility of the profession, she says. It would also provide greater definition to the work that a paralegal carries out when employed in the legal profession. “There is also not a lot of understanding between paralegal and legal administrative assistant,” she says.
Ross called the news of the B.C. government's proposal to create in statute a licensed paralegal "exciting" as it opens the doors for paralegals to enhance their credentials through the LSBC, explore new professional opportunities and provide greater access to justice.
“We agree with the access-to-justice initiative,” she says, adding that the B.C. government's tabling of the legislation regarding the creation of licensed paralegals was not a surprise as the BCPA has been involved with the LSBC issue for the past couple of years.
On Nov. 19, the B.C. government tabled Bill 57, the Attorney General Statutes Amendment Act, 2018, a roundup of acts that are undergoing changes. Within the Amendment Act is a change to the Legal Profession Act, which allows but does not require the LSBC benchers to create a category of alternative legal service provider known as licensed paralegals who could deliver limited legal services as determined and approved by the benchers.
Licensed paralegals is part of the LSBC's initiative, started in 2008, to find new ways of providing individuals with greater access to legal services as the cost of hiring lawyers rises. In 2014, the LSBC asked the government to consider legislative changes to provide for alternative legal service providers.
Meanwhile, the LSBC has been working on the proposed internal framework for establishing this new paralegal and has asked the legal profession for feedback.
"We will be making a written submission to the LSBC by Dec. 31," says Ross, referring to a call for submissions on the consultation paper published by the Alternative Legal Service Providers Working Group established by the LSBC benchers. The working group identified seven key areas where service providers could increase access to justice focusing on family law as the first area addressed.
Ross, who is a paralegal working in the area of family law, is a member of the Canadian Paralegal Institute and was a member of the Paralegal Litigation Users Group through the Canadian Paralegal Institute. This group was responsible for reviewing the B.C. Supreme Court civil rules and preparing a report for distribution to the chief justice, the chairperson of the rules revision committee, the president of the LSBC and the ministry of the attorney general. Ross also chaired the family law subsection for the Canadian Paralegal Institute for 2011 and 2012.
Ross says she has been monitoring the less than a dozen submissions made to the LSBC working group on alternative legal service providers in regards to the consultation paper online at the LSBC's website. She says submissions have largely been against establishing alternative legal service providers. The submissions Ross has read argue that clients would be receiving a second-rate service from alternative legal providers and that they lack the training and knowledge to deal with complex legal problems.
"I don't agree," says Ross, expressing her own view. She maintains that if the LSBC established licensed paralegals, for instance, there would be the onus to ensure they were qualified (education or an exam) and there would be continued regulation of licensed paralegals to ensure that they were in good standing. There would be a benefit to the public in providing licensed paralegals, she says. "There is a lot that a paralegal can do if someone can't afford a lawyer."
B.C.'s proposal to create a category of licensed paralegals is not the first in Canada, Ross says, as Ontario's law society regulates paralegals and they are able to practise independently compared to B.C.'s current situation where paralegals are under the supervision of a lawyer.
LSBC spokesman David Jordan said the proposed legislation would not require all paralegals to become licensed with the LSBC. "It would provide them with the opportunity to upgrade their credentials," he says, as it would provide a means of achieving the designation of licensed paralegal.
According to Jordan, licensed paralegals would be authorized by the benchers to provide services defined by the LSBC rules, independently of a lawyer. The benchers would determine the scope of services that could be provided by licensed paralegals, the training and education requirements for licensing and a code of conduct to which licensed paralegals would be expected to adhere.
"This is just creating a new class of paralegals," he says.
Ross, who also attended the recently aborted annual general meeting of the LSBC where Attorney General David Eby supported alternative legal service providers, says she will be in attendance at the upcoming Dec. 4 meeting of the AGM where alternative legal service providers is expected again to come forward in a resolution.
Resolution No. 3, put forward by several LSBC members and to be voted upon at the AGM, requests that the benchers withdraw a request for legislative changes that would allow the LSBC to regulate alternative legal service providers or licensed paralegals.
However, the LSBC is still a long way from establishing a new class of legal service providers. Bill 57 has only had first reading in the B.C. legislature. As well, the LSBC working group will have to evaluate feedback from members and make recommendations to the benchers, who would have to approve those recommendations, and the framework for licensing would have to be established.