Legal assistants and paralegals enjoy a rewarding career in the legal field.
Working with attorneys and clients is challenging work, and you need to get the right education in order to get the job.
Let’s explore what you need to do in order to become a legal assistant or paralegal in Canada.
There has been an increase in demand for legal assistants over the last several years, and Canadian officials expect the trend to continue in the future.
The terms legal assistant and paralegal are often used interchangeably. Be aware there are often some differences between legal assistants and paralegals, though. It is usually your employer who will decide what your title will be.
Around 50% of Canadian legal assistants work in law firms or notaries’ offices, while 30% work in public administration for the government. Some legal assistants work in corporation’s legal departments. In Ontario, licensed paralegals can operate their own practices and represent clients at administrative tribunals.
Paralegal school in Canada
Getting the proper education is vital to becoming a legal assistant. To meet demand, there has been a significant increase in the number of paralegal programs over the last several years.
The basic requirement for paralegal college is a secondary school diploma, with a grade 12 English credit. You can earn a diploma of college studies (DEC) in paralegal studies.
To attend university, the requirement is typically for 6 grade 12 U or M level credits. You can earn a bachelor’s in Legal Studies (Paralegal) Degree. Between 25% to 35% of Canadian paralegals have a university degree.
Note that there is a difference in legal assistant training and paralegal training. Courses labeled as legal administrative assistant/legal assistant will typically be geared more toward legal secretary-type office duties. Paralegal courses contain more substantive legal classes like legal research and writing.
Paralegal licensure in Canada
Ontario is the only province that requires paralegals to be licensed at this time.
By passing the certification exam, you will become a licensed paralegal. Becoming licensed means that you can set up your own paralegal practice. You are even allowed to appear in court for limited reasons.
Some venues you may appear on behalf of a client are: traffic court, administrative tribunals, and small claims court.
The Law Society of Upper Canada is the agency who licenses paralegals. Their website explains the exact scenarios where legal assistants may appear in court on behalf of a client, and what duties you may perform without the supervision of an attorney.
A licensed paralegal is held to ethical standards like an attorney, and is subject to disciplinary action if found in violation. You must carry liability insurance. Continuing professional development (CPD) classes or seminars are mandatory.
Unlicensed paralegals and legal assistants throughout Canada may work only under the supervision of a lawyer, and may not appear in court.
At this time, no province other than Ontario licenses paralegals.
In order to qualify for paralegal licensing and take the exam, you must have graduated from a paralegal program that is accredited by the law society.