The difference between Paralegal & Law Clerk programs.

Paralegal program in Ontario teaches subjects related to paralegal’s permissible areas of practice and other skills / competencies such as advocacy, alternate dispute resolution, tribunal practice and procedures, ethics and practice management. It equips them with skills necessary to represent clients and run their own business.

Law Clerk program teaches students to support lawyers in their work. Besides the knowledge of various practice areas (including lucrative practice areas such as Real Estate, Family Law, Criminal Law, Corporate Law, Wills & Estates Law which are excluded for Paralegals) they are taught to do specific chores like a first draft of a separation agreement or pre-nuptial, or to interview clients to complete financial statements in family law cases. They are also taught to prepare documents, maintain records and communicate with clients on standard steps in corporate, real estate matters and superior court matters. By and large Law Clerks do most of the standard bread and butter tasks for the lawyer. They are not ‘independent’ paralegals as they work under the supervision and licence of the lawyer who takes full legal responsibility, but they work very independently in the lawyer’s office.

The different legal professions other than lawyers.

Across Canada for many years the terms law clerk, legal assistant and paralegal generally meant the same thing. There have been other terms out there as well like Conveyancer and Notary Public.

Most provincial governments began the policy of allowing people to represent themselves in lower courts like small claims, administrative tribunals and traffic court. But they included in the legislation the right that these people could have an ‘agent’ speak for them. In these circumstances people who were not lawyers began offering their services to people. In many provinces the term ‘independent paralegal’ began to be used to describe these people to distinguish them from law clerks or legal assistants who worked for and under lawyers.

In Ontario, after much consultation and debate beginning in the 80’s, it was decided that ‘paralegals’ would be licenced in a manner similar to lawyers with the areas of permissible practice allowed to paralegals carefully defined. Paralegal became a regulated profession in Ontario as of 1 May 2007 with the Law Society of Upper Canada as the regulator. Paralegals are permitted to handle:

  •        Small Claims Court matters,
  •        landlord/tenant matters,
  •        Statutory Accident Benefit claims and
  •        insurance files.
  •        WSIB hearings,
  •        Employment Insurance appeals,
  •        Highway Traffic Act offences,
  •        disability appeals,
  •        appearances before all Boards and Tribunals and
  •        Immigration Services as of 30 June 2011 when Bill C-35 came into force

In Ontario, persons who work under the supervision of a Paralegal or a lawyer are referred to as Law Clerks.