Should there be a professional order for paralegals?

Some paralegals want to be governed by a professional order. Advantages, disadvantages and positions of the various stakeholders.

The Canadian Association of Paralegals (CAP) did not take the initiative to obtain a professional order on a whim. The decision was made after two positive consultations with its members. The application is currently being studied by the Office des professions du Québec.

Why exactly an order, rather than a regulation supervised by the Bar, as is the case in Ontario?

“In Quebec, paralegals can work for lawyers, notaries, court officers or a company that does not necessarily have legal staff… So why be supervised by one body rather than the other?,” asks Marc-Alors De Sève, who believes an order is necessary.

He says it is in the public interest. “In our opinion, accessibility to justice is a form of public protection. Many people cannot afford the services of a lawyer, while there are legal acts that could be delegated to us at lower cost. An Order would provide better protection for the public, by making justice more accessible.”

Paralegals themselves would benefit from an order. They would gain autonomy with respect of lawyers. “It would be easier for a paralegal to go out on his own and work in partnership with a lawyer.”

Marc-André De Sève says that the CAP is not asking for reserved acts, but a reserved title. “We want to know what a paralegal is. What is the minimum required training – is it a bachelor’s in law, is it a legal services technician’s diploma? We want to avoid a person being able to be designated as a paralegal simply because they do a good administrative job,” says Marc-André De Sève.

An order would involve taking on new legal responsibilities,  following continuing education and, of course, paying annual dues.

Resistance and reactions

The position of the CAP is stirring reactions. A lawyer appeared anonymously on the Droit-Inc. website to question the ability of paralegals to write contracts and make representations in court. But this point of view is far from being shared by all lawyers. Mtre Éric Thibodeau has praised the quality of work of some of them in an article in Droit-Inc:

“There are some paralegals that do as good work, if not better, than some lawyers. I do not see why they should be prevented from doing certain tasks with higher responsibility.”

The Association des parajuristes du Québec is promoting recognition of the profession by the Act respecting the Barreau du Québec, somewhat as Ontario has decided to proceed.

“The choice of a regulation (compared to having a professional order) would reduce tensions between lawyers and paralegals and would ensure the integrity of the paralegal profession and provide recourse to lawyers (and indirectly to the public) in the case of malpractise. A regulation is a win-win-win approach, for lawyers, paralegals and the public,” can be read in the comments to the article on the subject in Droit-Inc.

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