May 1 marks 10 years of paralegal regulation

Posted: 04/27/2017

Michelle Haigh, Chair, Law Society Paralegal Standing Committe

Ten years ago, on May 1, 2007, the Law Society began regulating paralegals when enabling amendments to the Law Society Act came in to force.

Just a year later, in May 2008, the Law Society issued the first paralegal licences after putting in place a regulatory framework that included competence standards, a grand-parenting process, and a code of conduct.  When the grand-parenting period concluded, more than 2,200 paralegals were licensed.

Bencher Michelle Haigh, one of the first paralegal benchers, was a member of the committee that developed the framework: “It was a crazy time leading up to the first licence being issued.  We really had no idea how many people would apply under the grand-parenting process.  We also had to think about the education and licensing process for new candidates moving forward.  There were some challenges, and definitely some improvements were made over the years.  But given the short time frame, I believe it was a great success.  The paralegal community is certainly well-equipped to handle the public’s legal needs, and to do it competently, and efficiently, with public protection measures that weren’t there pre-regulation.”

The profession continued to grow and evolve. In 2012, there were over 4,000 licensed paralegals. A five-year independent review, conducted for the Attorney General at that time, described regulation by the Law Society as an “unqualified success.”

Bencher Cathy Corsetti, who was Chair of the Paralegal Standing Committee in 2012, reflects on the progress made: “These past 10 years have brought many changes to the paralegal profession. The educational programs and licensing exams have been enhanced to produce highly-skilled and qualified legal service professionals who are a credit to the justice system and key providers of access to justice for the people of Ontario. What was once an unregulated profession, is now a profession fully integrated and regulated by the Law Society — one I am proud of.  I am looking forward to seeing what the next 10 years will bring!”

Today, more than 8,000 paralegals are licensed by the Law Society, with over 500 newly licensed since December.  Many of these new paralegals joined Treasurer Paul Schabas and other leaders of the legal professions at a celebratory reception last night.

In his welcoming remarks, Treasurer Schabas noted the 10 year anniversary: “This is a significant milestone. No doubt the implementation of paralegal regulation has had its challenges, but regulation has been tremendously successful in … making legal services more accessible and improving consumer services and public protection.”

Treasurer Schabas went on to stress the important role paralegals play in the justice system: “In becoming a paralegal today we look to you – a diverse, intelligent and hard working group of people – to advance and improve justice well into the 21st century.”

Bencher Michelle Haigh, also addressed the new paralegals last night, expressing the importance of engaging with other members of the profession and taking advantage of the resources and support offered by the Law Society.

Haigh was recently re-elected as Chair of the Paralegal Standing Committee.

The Paralegal Standing Committee was established in 2007 to lead the development of the paralegal regulatory framework. At that time, two paralegal benchers sat on the committee along with three paralegal committee members, five lawyer benchers, and three non-lawyer, non-paralegal benchers.

Now all five paralegals are elected by their peers as benchers who participate fully in the governance of the Law Society.  The current paralegal benchers are Michelle Haigh, Robert Burd, Cathy Corsetti, Brian Lawrie and Marian Lippa.

The Paralegal Standing Committee continues to be responsible for developing the policies that govern paralegals in Ontario.

See photos from last night’s Paralegal Welcome Reception.

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