The much-heralded agreement among various legal and paralegal
organizations to regulate the province's paralegal industry stands little
chance of being implemented because the key player in the proposal the
Ontario government was not represented at the negotiating table.
But even if the tentative pact ever sees the light of day in one form or the
other, it could create havoc in the field of real estate conveyancing and
expose the public to needless risk and expense.
After nine months of top-secret negotiations, a working group representing
some of the province's lawyer and paralegal groups released a consultation
document late last month. The document proposes introducing requirements for
paralegals to be trained, educated, licensed and insured. In addition, they
would have a code of conduct and a disciplinary procedure for governing
Following the recommendations in the badly flawed May, 2000, report of
retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, the proposal would allow
independent paralegals to make significant inroads in what has been for 200
years the exclusive territory of lawyers. None of this, in my opinion,
serves the public interest.
But the most stunning requirement of the consultation document was that the
Law Society of Upper Canada be the governing body of the province's
independent paralegals a proposal that was met with scorn among many in
both the legal and paralegal communities.
Setting up a governing body to regulate the paralegal profession would
involve no small amount of regulatory staff establishing functioning
programs for liability insurance, licensing, education, and discipline. In
addition, a well-endowed compensation fund would have to be up and running
on the first day of the new regime.
It is not difficult to imagine that the start-up costs for a paralegal
regulatory system could easily cost several million dollars. This would be
far beyond the ability of the province's estimated 800 to 1,200 independent
paralegals to raise, and the province's lawyers are certainly not about to
kick in any money to fund what many perceive to be the competition.
The big black hole in the paralegal consultation process is that the
government was not represented at the negotiating table. Nowhere in the
consultation document is there any hint at the set-up and operating costs of
the proposed scheme, nor has there ever been any whisper from the government
that it is willing to kick in any money at all.
It is a stretch of the imagination to envision the Ontario government coming
up with the millions of dollars necessary to fund paralegal regulation, much
less another huge chunk to inaugurate a fund (like the law society's $20
million fund) which compensates clients of dishonest practitioners.
As a governor (bencher) of the Law Society of Upper Canada, I was present
several years ago at the debates of Convocation, our governing body, when we
made the wrenching decision to turn the Legal Aid plan back to the
government, after we had created and operated it successfully for decades.
The decision was, in large, part prompted by the Ontario government's
continuing failure to properly fund the Legal Aid scheme. Indeed, at the
moment, I pay my car mechanic, plumber and computer technician higher rates
than the government pays its Legal Aid lawyers.
Having just dumped Legal Aid back into the government's lap, why would the
law society now want to take on the paralegals? I cannot imagine any
scenario more doomed to failure than that one. The long-standing hostility
of both groups to each other certainly does not bode well for the lawyers to
govern paralegals or even work with them.
In a press release at the end of April, law society treasurer Vern Krishna
praised the consultation document and said, "This is a tremendous step
forward," but thousands of Ontario's lawyers would beg to differ. For the
province's lawyers to govern its paralegals can only be described as a
recipe for disaster.
Next week: Why the public is at risk if independent paralegals handle real
Bob Aaron is a leading Toronto real
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