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Let them eat cake: Responding to criticisms from ‘lawyer’s guild’ | Ian G. Wilkinson

Monday, September 28, 2020 @ 12:11 PM | By Ian G. Wilkinson


Ian G. Wilkinson %>
Ian G. Wilkinson
A motion to reduce licensee fees at the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has been tabled for later review. It doesn’t take a cynic like me to say that’s no surprise. Joe Groia wrote a Sept. 16 article essentially saying, “now is not the time to reduce fees,” but ironically, it just underlines the point that paralegals should not be governed by the LSO in the first place.

Groia writes that benchers are “working another 26 days without compensation.” When seen in contrast to the fact that paralegals, on average, make less than 25 per cent of what the average lawyer does and that only five per cent of paralegals that obtain a licence survive long enough to stay in active practice, this simply demonstrates a complete ignorance of the apocalyptic conditions in the paralegal profession

My issue is not with the individuals that make up the LSO. Those that I have encountered, with one exception, have been professional, fair-minded and hard-working. My beef is with the LSO as our governing bureaucracy. The average income of LSO employees is $108,000. That’s something paralegals of which can only dream. We shouldn’t have to shoulder that burden.

Further, Groia makes a list of the LSO’s strategic initiatives but these are largely irrelevant to paralegals. Equity and diversity are statistically not problems for paralegals and not part of the LSO mandate anyway. We don’t see enough money to be concerned about anti-money laundering. The family law project as conceived is completely untenable and won’t help solve the access to justice issues the public faces. Paralegals are refused entry to most law libraries as they perceived as an exclusive club for lawyers. Paralegals are precluded from LawPRO so have to fend for themselves regarding errors and omissions insurance. Finally, the compensation fund set up to compensate paralegal clients and largely doesn’t.

Groia goes on to say that it’s “it’s time for the legal community to come together and work collaboratively to respond to the very real social and financial effects of COVID-19.” The hypocrisy of this statement is palpable to anyone that has any understanding of the history of paralegal regulation.

The “lawyers’ guild” has always worked to the disbenefit of the paralegal profession and, in this writer’s opinion, against the interests of the public ever since they first realized paralegals were “milking” what they thought were their cash cows.

Prior to regulation, the LSO, directed entirely by lawyers, hunted down any paralegal committing the unforgivable sin of providing uncontested divorces to the public. Even in light of recent court rulings, the LSO still insists paralegals cannot fill out immigration applications. Paralegals used to run free on the legal range and take cases to help the public with divorces, incorporations, business contracts, mediation and a variety of other legal services to the Ontario public. Now the public pays millions more every year for those services with no real justification. 

The LSO resisted regulation for years, until the tide of events made it clear that the paralegals would expand more and more despite their protestations. In true opportunist form, the decision was then made to push to incorporate paralegals into the LSO auspices. Like animal domestication, the lawyer guild saw that paralegals could better be controlled and milked more effectively if they were kept in a fenced field. You know ... keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Once corralled, the paralegals were herded into fenced-off scopes of practice where the grazing was slim pickings. It is no coincidence, that the only practice scopes available for paralegals, are those that are not lucrative for lawyers. Paralegals were further yoked with heavy regulatory obligations designed for lawyers and which were simply not applicable to paralegals.

As time went on, more and more paralegals were pushed into the field. With fees for schooling, applications, testing, licensing and continuing professional development, paralegals then became a cash cow. With eagle-eye surveillance, draconian powers of search, seizure and prosecution, the LSO attack dogs have kept paralegals frightened and docile. Challenge anything and risk being mercilessly separated from the herd and sent to slaughter. The LSO deems it proper to act as prosecutor, judge and the executioner of enforcement.

This isn’t Animal Farm but the metaphor isn’t far off. Quoting Groia is akin to quoting Orwell’s lead pig Napoleon “All animals are equal” but paralegals know that some animals are more equal than others.

I can imagine Groia responding to the revolting peasant paralegals demanding a few crumbs with a dismissive “Let them eat cake.” Call that acerbic or hyperbolic but the pandemic has disproportionately affected the paralegal profession in ways the lawyer guild just doesn’t understand.   

Metaphors aside, paralegals shouldn’t have to pay for the bloated bureaucracy that is the LSO. Cut the unneeded programs, cut the salaries for the bureaucrats, cut the frivolous wine and cheese parties. We shouldn’t have to pay for any of it.

Better yet, let paralegals run their own farm. We would be better off, and we could get back to providing the Ontario public the access to justice our way without all the extra fat. All paralegals ever get is the gristle.

Ian G. Wilkinson B.A., LL.B. provides litigation paralegal services throughout southwestern Ontario. You can e-mail him at iangwilkinson@legalcentre.ca or visit www.legaleagle.ca.

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