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Difference between lawyers, paralegals | Sam Goldstein

Monday, April 15, 2019 @ 12:18 PM | By Sam Goldstein

Sam Goldstein %>
Sam Goldstein
It’s interesting during this bencher election in Ontario no candidate demanded that the standards to become a paralegal must come down so more people can enter that profession. I don’t understand why candidates are fixated on lowering the standards for becoming a lawyer when the Law Society of Ontario is slowly expanding the scope of legal work paralegals can do. Why would a person interested in a legal career want to spend $40,000 a year on law school when you can take a two-year paralegal course at Seneca College for a total cost of $4,028 and do almost the same work?

I know what you are thinking. The three years of undergraduate academic legal education you get in law school teaches you how to “think like a lawyer,” as professor Charles Kingsfield famously said in the movie The Paper Chase. The education in law school is far superior to the education you get in a two-year college course. Not, potentially, according to the law society.

It’s preordained that paralegals will soon be representing clients in family court since the committee studying the matter is suggesting with a little specialized training in family law, paralegals will soon be able to perform limited tasks in that area of the law. Whether “limited” means filling out family law forms or “limited” to appearing on matters within provincial jurisdiction is yet to be determined.

It makes no legal sense to limit paralegals to filling out forms. Paralegals understand that any trained monkey can do that. What’s important is understanding the legal consequences and that’s why paralegals are asking for specialized training in family law matters.

What is happening in family law with paralegals is small sardines in comparison to the mammoth blue whale in the room when it comes to the future of what paralegals will be able to do in criminal law.

Already paralegals are asking for a little specialized training in criminal cases now that the federal Liberals all but eliminated indictable offences by recategorizing summary offences by increasing the sentence to two years less a day from six months and left the paralegal issue open to provincial law societies to decide.

I suggest corporate lawyers read Martin Niemoller before gloating that paralegals will never intrude upon their area of expertise. If the only difference between paralegals and lawyers is a little bit of specialized training, then why can’t paralegals perform residential real estate transactions, commercial leases, purchase and sale agreements, if it just a matter of taking the right course?

I am not for a minute propounding the expansion of legal services paralegals can do. I am pointing out there is a difference between a bachelor’s degree and community college diploma and no amount of specialized training can make up for that difference.

Paralegals like to play the access to justice card arguing they are a cheaper alternative to lawyers. That is true to some extent but with increased power comes increased responsibility. In the legal world that means your insurance premiums go up and so too do your fees to cover new business expenses.

True paralegals likely will not charge the same as a lawyer. I use paralegals to attend court for me because they are a cheaper alternative for my client than for me to attend a simple administrative court appearance. I think, however, the law society owes the public something more than caveat emptor if paralegals can represent people on criminal matters where a person’s liberty is at stake.

Sam Goldstein is a Toronto criminal lawyer. You can e-mail him at, follow him @Willweargloves or visit

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