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Last words on paralegals | Gary Joseph

Friday, November 27, 2020 @ 9:00 AM | By Gary Joseph

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Gary Joseph
I do not presume to write on behalf of the family law bar, but I have heard from an enormous number of my colleagues in response to my writings in this publication and elsewhere regarding independent paralegal practices of family law. My views have been influenced by colleagues and have evolved as a result of the debate. As I have previously written, I believe that the decision is basically made to license independent paralegal practices of family law and that the Law Society of Ontario request for input is but a salve to the profession. Many of my colleagues have reflected disappointment with the initial process that led to the LSO debate and to the likely outcome.

The public wants better access to justice and the LSO seems convinced that the method best to address this issue is to license paralegals to do family law work. For many years this work has been recognized as legal work requiring an individual trained in the law and mentored into the profession through articling and bar examinations. To now suggest otherwise is an affront to many who have worked so hard to master the law as it relates to this field but, much more importantly, it diminishes the importance of the work, the issues and the process for many within it.

There are few matters more important than family, children and family breakups yet expediency and dollars seem about to prevail. It is claimed that lawyers cannot deliver the services in a manner that most in our society can afford so rather than address the root problems of this, let’s allow lightly trained unsupervised individuals to do the work. Many paralegals have responded to my writings with anger and insults. I regret this as I do not wish to be seen as making personal attacks nor to insult these individuals. Yet I don’t quite understand this. I do not agree that access to justice, a fundamental value in our society, should be used to open the door to non-lawyers independently practising law. Especially so in the absence of appropriate supervision. Why that attracts such angry responses, I don’t know.

The LSO should strike a committee to examine how to lower the cost of practising law. Let’s see licence fees reduced, reduce the administrative demands on lawyers so they can lower their overheads. Cost of service drives the cost to clients. Lawyers invest a great deal in the cost of their education. I have had junior associates who cannot afford an automobile as they are burdened by debt incurred in obtaining their degree. Why not address the cost of law school tuition and increase the availability of financial assistance for students without means?

I feel certain that the public would prefer a lawyer to a paralegal. Let young lawyers be economically competitive with paralegals and see whom the public choses. The bottom line is that the public interest in having quality representation in family matters is more likely to be served by a trained lawyer than a lightly trained paralegal. If that is insulting to some, I am sorry. If you want to be a lawyer, go to law school, pass the bar exams and article.

Gary S. Joseph is the managing partner at MacDonald & Partners LLP, family law practitioners.

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