Challenges Faced By Non – White Paralegals and Lawyers Part 1

In comparison to the U.S and Britain, Canada seems very tolerant. However, with a closer look it becomes evident that racism exists at a systemic level, even in the legal profession.

In 2012 the Law Society of Upper Canada assembled a group of individuals to examine hardships faced by racialized lawyers and paralegals. The objective was to create possible solutions to enhance inclusion for racialized legal practitioners throughout their career paths.

What did they find?

Author Julius Melnitzer sums up the groups findings in to four key points:

1. Racialized lawyers “believed discriminatory behaviour and assumptions were “common features of their everyday professional experience.”

My experience: Throughout my legal career I have worked with, volunteered for and conversed with numerous legal entities and personalities. I believe being South Asian impacted my interactions with established lawyers. Even before I began my legal career I heard comments from Caucasian lawyers such as “you Indians all want to become lawyers eh.”

2. Lawyers believed that their “alienation and lack of opportunity” compelled them to start their own practices despite feeling unprepared to do so.

My experience: I know of multiple paralegals that started their own businesses due to a lack of opportunity. Many paralegals are offered jobs as Legal Assistants or Law Clerks so they do not appear in court. I chose to become a paralegal to have a clientele and handle matters from start to finish, not act as a Legal Assistant to a lawyer and only prepare correspondences and do administrative work. Some paralegals are content working for lawyers because they enjoy what they do, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I understand that many firms use Paralegal and Legal Assistant titles interchangeably, I don’t. Here is why.

Multiple employment agencies advised me to apply to Law Clerk or Legal Assistant positions rather than Paralegal positions because lawyers do not want to pay for a paralegal’s insurance when they could hire a student – at – law to do the same work. Perhaps being South Asian is a contributing factor to not being offered Paralegal positions. I recognize some firms will pay for insurance but there are too few in my opinion.

3. Many lawyers felt they lacked access to mentorship and a solid professional network

My experience: It is challenging to get mentorship within the legal field without connections. Although my program provided me with a great placement, most paralegal candidates weren’t as lucky. Many paralegal candidates complained they were “pushing paper” and no in court experience.

4. The group also found that “black and South Asian lawyers are proportionately more likely to be in small and sole practices while they’re proportionately much less likely to be in medium and large firms.”

My experience: I’ve only worked in small and sole practices. However, small practices do have their perks; you are forced to explore every aspect of the business. The receptionist, legal assistant to the lawyers, legal assistant to the partner, law clerk and even accountant sometimes are all one. It can be a great tool to gain experience in opening your own business down the road.

Finally, the group also found racialized paralegals had even less success finding suitable employment than lawyers. A potential contributing reason aside from race for this could be that paralegals are still establishing themselves within the legal world due to their changing roles. Another potential reason could be that lawyers would rather hire students – at – law or law clerks to optimize costs.

We`ve identified the issue but what are some possible solutions? Part 2 to follow soon.

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  1. Really liked this article and your personal view. What do you mean when you say, “…paralegals are still establishing themselves within the legal world due to their changing roles.”?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words E. What I meant when I said that “paralegals are still establishing themselves within the legal world due to their changing roles” was that the scope of practice for paralegals is constantly undergoing changes, resulting in paralegals facing new challenges. Over the last five years there has been considerable debate regarding if paralegals should be permitted to practice in the fields of family law, real estate and wills. Although there was no success in these matters, paralegals are now permitted to work in the field of immigration law. As the scope of practice expands paralegals have new territory to establish. Furthermore, some paralegals are moving out of the Legal Assistant role and more into their courts. Courts require additional skills such as public speaking and presentation skills which are not used as often, if at all, within law firms. The transition from an office setting to a court house can be very intimidating.


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