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My wish for 2022? The Family Law Services Provider licence | Michelle Lomazzo

Friday, November 25, 2022 @ 9:31 AM | By Michelle Lomazzo

Michelle Lomazzo %>
Michelle Lomazzo
On Dec. 1, Convocation of the Law Society of Ontario will vote on the Family Law Services Provider (FLSP) licence. My wish for 2022? That most benchers will vote in favour of the FLSP licence. There is widespread agreement among the judiciary, family law bar, the paralegal community and family law litigants that an access to justice crisis exists in family law matters.

This is a burning access to justice issue. We know that almost 60 per cent of family law litigants are self-represented and the data clearly shows that the self-represented often obtain poorer results than those who are represented.

The FLSP model proposed has a narrow scope of practice. It includes process navigation, completing applications for joint and uncontested divorce (without property or corollary relief), motions to change for child support based on straightforward income (excluding those that include special and extraordinary expenses), Family Responsibility enforcement proceedings and change of name applications.

I wanted more for the people of Ontario who desperately need assistance with family law matters. I’m disappointed the licence proposed doesn’t include a broader scope. Most paralegals are far more capable than what’s being proposed. I am not a defeatist; in fact, I am reasonable and pragmatic and most importantly, I respect the judiciary. Expansion in paralegal scope will require an incremental approach. Staying focused on the long game is key.

As many of you know, the judiciary decides who can appear before them in family law court and on what motions by virtue of Rule 4(1) of the Family Law Rules. The judiciary has agreed to allow paralegals to argue enforcement motions and child support change motions (within scope) before the Superior Court of Justice. This advocacy enhances access to justice. I am pleased the judiciary is letting paralegals get a foot in the door by allowing paralegals to argue these motions.

The Bonakalo report was released in 2016 and noted there were unmet legal needs in family law. Justice Annemarie Bonkalo recommended the law society create a “specialized licence for paralegals to provide specified services in family law.” The Family Law Action Plan (FLAP) jointly proposed by the LSO and the Ministry of the Attorney General was approved by Convocation in 2017 and the LSO has been working on this licence since then. The Family Law Working Group, a committee made up of benchers at the LSO, recommended a two-stage plan for paralegals providing legal services to family law litigants starting with navigation and once that was successful, advocacy would be added. That didn’t happen. The committee working on the licence decided to skip the first stage and proceeded with a full-blown licence that included numerous types of appearances in court.

While developing a robust FLSP licence may have been ideal for those needing access to justice in family law matters and for paralegals, there was no chance that such a licence would pass at Convocation, nor would the judiciary approve those appearances.

Surveys repeatedly show that Ontarians don’t hire lawyers, or fail to continue their lawyer’s retainer, because parties simply can’t afford lawyers’ rates or fees. While I am aware there are lawyers who disagree, data confirms that most paralegals charge less for their services. Besides there being a need, there is also a demand. A recent LSO survey noted 80 per cent of the public said they would hire a paralegal licensed in the field to represent them in family law matters.

With the proposed model, paralegals who obtain an FLSP specialized licence (in addition to a paralegal licence) after 260 hours of education and passing the FLSP licensing exam, will have a narrow scope. The clients they will serve are the self-represented; those who would not likely retain a lawyer. There will still be huge demand for family law lawyers and others who can provide family legal services.

The people of Ontario deserve assistance now, not in another 10 years from now. If Convocation votes against this motion on Dec. 1, there will be no FLSP licence and therefore no assistance for family law litigants. We will be left with the status quo.

Let’s do what’s right for the public. Let’s give the public the legal help they need and can access.

Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? No. Am I still convinced this is a step in the right direction? Yes. If Jolly old St. Nick can slip an approved FLSP model under the tree, that is my last wish for 2022.

Author’s note: The views in this article are mine alone and not representative of the Law Society of Ontario.

Michelle Lomazzo was elected a paralegal bencher at the Law Society of Ontario in 2019. She has worked as an injured worker advocate for several years in Windsor, Ont. Through her legal services practice, Lomazzo Workers Compensation Appeals Professional Corporation, she specializes in workers compensation appeals before the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and regularly appears before the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT).  

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