Family Law Debate

There has been an on-going debate surrounding the possibility of paralegals practicing family law. Many lawyers have argued that family law is too demanding and complex for paralegals. Conversely, clients have argued that lawyers’ fees are too high and consequently, most citizens can’t afford representation. In the middle are individuals that believe that although family law is complex, paralegals should be permitted to practice family law with specialized education and knowledge. An article from the Globe and Mail written by Jessica Prince and Rory Gillis explores the idea of broadening the scope of practice for paralegals especially in the realm of family law, real estate and wills. Jessica and Rory Gillis raise some compelling and valid points in their article.

Gist of the Article:
The article begins with the following eye-opening statistics “As many as 65 per cent of individuals involved in family court proceedings in Ontario do not have a lawyer. In the province’s civil courts, there are, by some estimates, more people representing themselves than parties with counsel. Increasingly, Ontarians are unable to afford lawyers’ services.” J. Prince and R. Gillis then proceed to explore how expanding the scope of practice for paralegals can be beneficial for the system. It’s definitely worth a read! The link is provided below: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/lawyers-are-too-expensive-for-most-canadians-give-more-work-to-paralegals/article15262477/

My Thoughts:
I am an advocate for access to justice; I believe that money should not be an obstacle in obtaining representation and legal resolutions in legal matters. However, this subject is far more complex than cost alone. On one hand, I understand why lawyers have concerns about paralegal’s handling complex family law matters. I appreciate that family law issues can quickly become complicated which requires specific legal knowledge and experience to be resolved successfully and in the best interest of the client. However, I believe that if paralegals are given the same education and opportunity as lawyers, they could effectively represent clients in family court.

I remember discussing the possibility of paralegals practising family law with a lawyer whose immediate reaction was “No. Paralegals cannot practice family law; it’s far too complex for them.” I had a couple of issues with this comment.

Firstly, I believe that most paralegals can represent clients better than self – represented individuals. J. Prince and R. Gillis explain their view when they explain “paralegals are far better than the alternative: no representation at all.” I imagine it is far more difficult for a self – represented individual to represent themselves than for a paralegal to do so. It is intimidating speaking before a judge or justice of the peace for legal practitioners – imagine the psychological distress and fear a self – represented person endures.

Why is it difficult to represent yourself in court? Self – representation often results in additional distress as there is emotional investment in the case and bias. In fact, throughout my legal education I was advised even as a paralegal to not represent myself in court and always have another legal representative handle my case despite my legal education.

Furthermore, with 65% of clients without representation in family court it is likely to result in delays in the legal system due to the judge explaining the process, improper filing, and the self – represented individual trying to navigate the court system. Finally, prior to 2007, numerous paralegal’s practiced family law; however, the LSUC then determined that family law was out of the permitted scope of practice for paralegals. This resulted in many paralegal’s losing their businesses.

My Suggestion:
As a medium, I believe that paralegal’s should be permitted to practice family law with the right education. Perhaps it would be best to ease paralegals into the field by having them practice uncontested divorces and then progress into more complex aspects of family law. This would allow the Law Society to monitor the success of paralegals practicing family law before choosing to expand the scope of practice. A possible method to assess the success of the transition is to have clients rate and assess their paralegal’s services upon completion of the case and requiring the paralegal to submit the final report to the LSUC for review at the end of the year. If the clients are satisfied then the paralegal can continue to practice and broaden their scope, if not, then are not permitted to practice in that field of law.

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