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P1s (Paralegals) - Piloting you through the shallows

A fellow P1 of ours, M Juelann Vander Mark, wrote a great informational piece on the paralegal profession. We wanted to share her thoughts with everyone. Her piece is directly below, let us know what you think.

P1s (Paralegals) - *~Piloting you through the shallows~*

First of all, “what on earth is a P1?” is the question that I can already hear you asking.

Well, a P1 is the Law Society of Upper Canada’s (LSUC) designation for all Licensed Paralegals in Ontario, Canada. The LSUC uses the label of L1 for lawyers.

For the record, unlike other provinces in Canada and in the US, the title of paralegal, here in Ontario, is only to be used to describe a post-secondary-educated, legally recognized and regulated body of professionals that has Rules of Professional Conduct, By-laws and The Law Society Act to adhere to. Paralegals, to be considered as such, rather than a law clerk, must hold a P1 license with the LSUC. When a P1 provides direct services to the public and isn’t working in-house for a firm or the government, they must also carry insurance against errors and omissions, the same as lawyers must. Does that put paralegals in the same category as lawyers? Naturally not; however, we do operate in many of the same legal arenas. Here’s how we differ.

First, let’s think about those areas in our lives that involve abiding within rules and regulations, simply put, our laws. Those laws encompass matters that are heard in judicial forums that range from criminal and civil courts to boards, commissions and tribunals, as they all deal with various laws and their interpretation and application in real life.

In my imagination, I’m seeing the law, and how it relates to the difference between L1s and P1s, in much the same way as I’d be looking at our Great Lakes. The five Great Lakes all have their own peculiarities, from relatively deep centers and limited shallow shores in some, to cold, dark and very deep from shore to shore in another, and then others, like Lake Erie, that have wide shallows with riptides beneath their surface that suddenly move out to a calmer deep centre where aquatic life is abundant.

When comparing the Great Lakes to law and how it relates to paralegals versus lawyers, imagine that the shallow, seemingly calm, waters along the shores are those pesky things in law such as a careless traffic ticket, a dog off-leash citation, an employment standards or WSIB objection or a human rights application that some folks feel confident handling themselves, since they reason that those sorts of things are pretty straight forward.

These “shallows” also include matters that are heard in Small Claims Court, all charges under the Provincial Offences Act and strict summary conviction Criminal Code charges heard in the Ontario Court of Justice. Those shallows are also comprised of appearing before the License Appeal Tribunal, Landlord Tenant Board, professional boards for folks like vets, doctors, or ECEs and the list goes on. For some non-legal folk, in certain cases, these are relatively easy waters to navigate.

We then have the deeper parts of the lake, along with those lakes that are cavernous from shore-to-shore. Those are areas that I think of as “ultimate lawyer territory”, where one is dealing with major criminal offences such as murder, robbery, or impaired driving causing death--(indictable offences)--, civil areas such as real estate, family, estate, and corporate law, and all legal issues that end up before a federal court. Paralegals may not, under any circumstances, venture into these areas, at all, ever. Lawyers can work in the “shallows” where the self-represented and paralegals may operate, however, paralegals must remain within their designated scope of practice.

So, in what ways is asking for the assistance of a P1 valuable if one could represent him or herself in those allegedly easy cases?

Well, always remember, that what appears on the surface to be a day-at-the-beach where one can paddle around in some unruffled shallows can, in reality, be a venture into disaster, as those shallows can be hiding anything from a balance-defying rip-tide, to ankle-entangling sea weeds, or they can launch hidden sandbanks beneath their smooth veneer that’ll take advantage of your lack of being truly familiar with their marine topography. Think of those unexpected hazards as the rules of law, the subtle interpretations and specific procedures that can turn what seems like an easy dip in the shallows of the lake into a stress-inducing wrestling match with sink holes, under-currents, waves and hidden rocks that can result in life-altering, and often negative, consequences.

Paralegals have been educated in how to navigate those tricky waters and are mandated to continue in ongoing professional development. They are able to provide legal services ranging from drawing you a map of the hidden shoals in the form of consulting and document processing in a limited-scope retainer to providing you with a motorboat to ride in, in the form of a full and ongoing retainer for complete advocacy. They are competent to pilot your matter through the complex eddies and the rising and falling water levels known as the law.

Don’t forget, one can drown in his/her own bathtub, never mind being at the lake. Paralegals are your bridge between hiring expensive counsel (L1), to an, often, equally expensive exercise in correcting something one has tried to represent oneself in.

Paralegals are here to provide cost-effective Access to Justice and to help you avoid floundering about in the deceitfully calm, but truly slippery shallows of the law.

©Written by M. Juelann Vander Mark: Paralegal – Mediator

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