Paralegals 101

Skip Class, Go To Jail

How many of you used to skip classes in high school? Many individuals have skipped a class for a variety of reasons including: studying for a test later in the day, to avoid a boring lessschoolon, or to have some fun with our friends. Youth infer the consequences of skipping may entail detention but however, rarely do they consider imprisonment as a consequence of their actions.

A sixteen-year-old girl in Barrie, Ontario was arrested for persistently skipping classes. The teen also failed to appear for her scheduled court dates; consequently, she was arrested. The teen was detained in a prison cell overnight and brought for the judge the following day for her scheduled court date. The arrest warrant was issued in accordance to the Ontario Education Act which states that students between six and 18 years old must attend school in Ontario.

Many individuals are unfamiliar with the Ontario Education Act and the legalities surrounding the legislation. The Ontario Education Act is within the paralegal scope of practice, which means paralegals can defend clients and argue cases before various Boards of Education.

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Points of Discussion:

1. How are school absences addressed in your country?

Just Call Me Rachel Zane

What do Rachel Zane and Canadian Paralegals have in common?

Recently I wrote a piece on how Canadian paralegals with their own practices differ from Rachel Zane (a paralegal in the U.S legal drama Suits).  Although there are many differences between Canadian and American paralegals, there are some similarities. Although law firms have different responsibilities for their legal personnel, these are some general points regarding what paralegal work entails in Canada.

1. Paralegals are responsible for a significant amount, if not all, legal research involved in a case.  Paralegals are responsible for finding precedent cases that can help support a lawyer’s argument in court. Legal research can take hours and even days depending on the type of case. So when you see Rachel spending late nights in the office researching and reading through cases, paralegals actually do that.

2. Paralegals read, summarize and prepare legal briefs. Paralegals often have to read, summarize and organize materials for lawyers.  For instance, paralegals play a large role in preparing a book of documents (exhibits to be presented as evidence) and book of authorities (case law and statutes) for lawyers.  Some paralegals prepare both books for multiple lawyers and multiple cases simultaneously.

Remember when Rachel was representing Louis in the matter of his cat? Remember all the binders and papers on her desk while she was presenting her case?  Those are materials that legal practitioners use to present their case, kind of like slides for a power point presentation – but much more complicated.  Once my colleague and I had to prepare five sets of three binders with over 500 pages in each binder as a book of evidence for a high profile case. Needless to say, it took us the entire day.

3. Paralegals are often required to examine disclosure (ie. evidence) from the opposition and counteract flawed arguments with valid legal points. This is similar to when you see Rachel and Mike work together to tackle a case but, unfortunately, most Canadian paralegals do not have their genius significant other to help them.  DARN IT MIKE!

4. Personally, I’ve found that much like Rachel and Donna, in most law firms legal secretaries, paralegals and law clerks form great friendships. Their lunch dates, inside jokes and a sense of “I’ve got your back” attitude help create a bond and keep each other sane through the insanity.

5. Paralegals are responsible for overseeing the completion of legal forms. Paralegals often prepare, overlook and revise legal forms to ensure they follow the legal requirements. They ensure that no errors have gone unnoticed and correct mistakes.

6. Paralegals are often responsible for editing legal arguments and documents for lawyers. Before something is sent to court or the opposing party, paralegals often edit legal materials prepared by the lawyers to ensure it makes sense and correct all grammatical errors.

7. Some paralegals are overworked. Remember the episode where Rachel ended up in the hospital? Well although it may not be as extreme, many paralegals spend countless hours working and playing multiple roles in a law firm.  Some paralegals wear multiple hats in a firm including legal assistant, receptionist and paralegal; this is more common in smaller firms.  For instance, in Canada paralegals are often also responsible for the firms accounting; preparing invoices, billing clients, keeping track of the lawyers’ billable hours and disbursements.

With all of this legal work, is it really a surprise that many Canadian paralegals have their own successful practices?

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Hi, I’m a Paralegal but I’m not Rachel Zane –

I’m sure many female paralegals can relate, when I tell someone I’m a paralegal the first thing out of someone’s mouth is “Oh so you’re Rachel Zane”.  For those of you who are scratching your head wondering who Rachel Zane is, she’s a character on the famous American based television series Suits.

Although there are many similarities between Rachel Zane the paralegal and paralegals that work in law firms the tracks begin to divide when we discuss fully licensed paralegals with their own practices and this is why.

1. Fully licensed paralegals can have their own practice. Paralegals have a permitted scope of practice that allows them to sustain their own practice. Along with this privilege, paralegals are required to fulfil continuing professional development hours (CPD) and substantive hours on an annual basis. CPD and substantive hours are used to keep legal professionals up to date with the law and their legal skills. Paralegals can only be fully licensed after successfully completing a specialized paralegal program, an internship and passing a standardized licensing exam.

Conversely, Rachel Zane would not be permitted to have her own practice because the U.S does not allow paralegals to practice on their own. Although I do remember hearing about a state that had just passed a law to allow so. Furthermore, Rachel would not have to write a standardized test, uphold CPD/substantive hour requirements.

2. Fully licensed paralegals do not need to work under the supervision of lawyers. Licensed paralegals, just like lawyers, are regulated by the Law Society of Canada which makes them subject to disciplinary actions for professional misconduct.  Furthermore, fully licensed paralegals require liability insurance just like lawyers as they too can be sued.  However, many paralegals with their own practices do choose to work with lawyers for mentorship and business promotion.

On the other hand, paralegals are regulated differently in America; Rachel Zane would have to work under the supervision of a lawyer. If Rachel makes a mistake, lawyers (Harvey) are held responsible.

3. Rachel Zane has Donna, Harvey, Louis, Jessica and Mike – Fully licensed paralegals in Canada don’t have anything to compete with that team.  On a side note, I wish I was Donna!

4. Fully licensed paralegals can appear before tribunals, agencies, commissions and in small claim courts. Ontario is the only province that allows fully licensed paralegals to appear before tribunals, commissions, etc.  Paralegals represent clients in a wide range of legal issues ranging from criminal charges to human right violations. Thus, fully licensed paralegals can handle a case within their permitted scope of practice beginning to end without a lawyer’s supervision. Rachel Zane would not have that opportunity.

5. Fully licensed paralegals with their own practices can work for multiple organizations. Paralegals with their own practice can team up with law firms as an extension of their services. For example, paralegals with their own practice can work with multiple organizations and firms. Paralegals can assist firms with: preparing legal documents, filling out legal forms, legal research, signing affidavits and working on pleadings while still specializing their own practice in a completely different field such as Landlord Tenant Board proceedings. Of course, paralegals would have to keep in mind conflicts of interest and follow the rules of conduct.

Again, for reasons listed above, Rachel Zane wouldn’t have that choice as she works full time at Pearson Specter Litt.

6. Rachel Zane also has a fabulous wardrobe.  I’ve seen amazing outfits in court; I think we’re getting there!

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Move Cyclist, Get Out of The Way!

With summer around the corner, many of us are preparing to bring out our bikes and enjoy the weather.  Although riding our bikes can be an escape from reality, we can’t escape our legal responsibilities both as cyclists and car drivers.

Car drivers are often irritated and frustrated with having to share the road with cyclists and vice versa.  However, many individuals are not aware of their legal rights and responsibilities. Here is a quick overview of some legal tips for cyclists and motor vehicle drivers.

Do cyclists have to present their driver’s license if stopped by a police officer?  Cyclists do not have to show their driver’s license if they are stopped by a police officer. However,  a police officer may ask for your address and name, this information must be provided in accordance to 218 of the Highway Traffic Act in order to avoid a fine in the amount of $85.00

If a cyclist doesn’t wear a helmet and gets hit by a car, can they still pursue legal action? Yes. Even though the cyclist was not wearing a helmet, there are still grounds for a lawsuit in respect to accident benefits.  However, the case is likely to take into account the severity of the injury based on the fact that there was no helmet. For instance, if there is a leg injury with no relevance to wearing a helmet then the court is not likely to take into account the absence of a helmet when deciding compensation.

Is it illegal for cyclists to ride through crosswalks/intersections? Yes. Cyclists are required to walk their bike through the crosswalk. A violation of this law can result in an $85 fine under section 140(6) and 144(29) of the Highway Traffic Act.

Are drinking and driving laws the same for cyclists as they are for car drivers? No. Although cyclists will not be criminally charged for riding a bike, cyclists maybe subjected to different charges including being intoxicated in public and careless driving.

Is side by side cycling illegal? The Ontario Traffic Act does not prohibit side by side cycling however cyclists should avoid cycling side by side when it impedes faster vehicles from passing.

Do cyclists have to obey all traffic signs (ie. stop signs and red lights)? Yes. Cyclists are required to signal before turning, stop at stop signs, walk across crosswalks, yield/stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.  These are just some of the requirements.

If I have a collision with a car, does the driver have to pay for damages to my bike?
Yes. A cyclist can ask for damages occurred in a collision with a car.

Remember the Ontario Highway Traffic Act states cyclists have equal rights on the road so you are entitled to your rights. Make sure you are informed.

If you think you have a legal case, a paralegal can assist you with your matter.

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Human Rights Violations: Serving Discrimination For Dinner

Discrimination is a word that we are all very familiar with however; sometimes we fail to recognize it when we see it. Conversely, on some occasions we turn a blind eye.

Have you ever been to a restaurant where a female server is dressed in “scanty” outfit?

Have you been to a restaurant where male servers dress in “scanty” outfits? – Pause, take a second and think about that.

Service workers can be an easy target for discrimination based on their sex. There are some restaurants and bars that are known to encourage women to dress in “scanty” clothing. Short shorts, bikini tops and short skirts are a part of the dress code. This can become especially uncomfortable for female servers when they work in an environment with large groups of intoxicated individuals.

On the other hand, men often do not have such a dress code.  Although there are environments in which men are subjected to dress gender-specifically while women are not, such establishments are less common. Furthermore, male dress codes rarely allude to sexual connotations.

Much of society is desensitized to this reality. Accordingly, many individuals do not realize that differential treatment of individuals based on their sex is a human rights violation. The issue of reinforcing a dress code based on gender/sex is not based on clothing differences but rather the sexual connotations behinds the clothing.

For instance, women may also be required to wear heels, wear their hair a particular way and wear make-up but these kinds of requests are commonly not problematic for most women. However, when women feel objectified and are clearly treated differently than their male counterparts that there is a reason for concern. For example, women are forced to wear bikinis and short shorts while men servers wear long shorts and button down shirts with tank tops underneath.

Although one may argue that these individuals are aware of the dress code before they begin work, there are points to consider. For instance, one may be aware of the dress code but not realize how uncomfortable it is until they are in the situation. Alternatively, one may not be aware that servers of another gender/sex are not subjected to similar standards until after they begin work.  However, that is not to say that every man/ woman server is against the differential treatment as some individuals are comfortable with the treatment.

One may argue, why don’t these women just complain or leave work if they feel that uncomfortable?  The reason is rather simple; there are consequences for their actions.

Many women fear having their hours cut, losing their job or differential treatment from the staff. Also, some individuals can’t afford to leave, they need the money. There are many college and university students who live on residence and are trying to pay off their OSAP fees; the pressure of debt can be overwhelming. Moreover, due to the limitation of youth job opportunities, some students feel they cannot be picky.

What can these individuals do?  Victims of human right violations can take their matters before the Human Rights Tribunal. Paralegals can argue your case before the Human Rights Tribunal. A paralegal can assist you in determining the best course of action and represent your case before the tribunal.  There are many precedent cases where individuals have taken their matter before the Human Rights Tribunals and obtained monetary compensation for their case.

Have you been in a situation where you faced discrimination? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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This Contract is Void!

When we enter a contract we often worry about the consequences of doing so. How do we know if we are still bound to a contract? Read the post below to find out what kind of mistakes can make a contract void.

1. Mistake A mistake may entail the terms written in the contract being wrong or no agreement on the terms.  Mistakes usually result in the contract being voidable all together.

2. Mental capacity If both parties do not have the mental capacity to enter a contract, there is no consent and hence the contract is void.

3. Common mistake  A common mistake entails both parties entering into a contract based on false assumptions.  This then results in the contract being void.  If each party made false assumptions regarding the contract, this results in no agreement; thus, the contract never existed.  However, if both parties are mistaken about the value/quality of the goods, the contract will be valid.

Example: A and B enter into a contract for buying a painting produced by B. B doesn’t know that the painting has been damaged in a flood in the studio. They reach the studio and learn of the damage, this makes the contract void.

Example 2: A enters a contract to sell a painting to B for $100 and later finds out that painting is worth considerably more, this contract is still valid despite the monetary discrepancy.

4. Mutual Mistake  A mutual mistake entails both parties make a mistake about different aspects of the contract. This results in a lack of an agreement; an agreement is essential to enter a contract.

Example: H purchased a painting from K in October. K only ships paintings in November and July.  H assumed he will be receiving the painting in November and K planned on shipping the painting in July. H then sues K for the late arrival and refuses to accept the shipment.  Since no one specified when the shipment would arrive, the contract terms become ambiguous and allow a reasonable person to interpret the contract either way. Hence, the contract becomes void.

5. Unilateral Mistake This situation occurs when one party is mistaken but the other one is aware of the mistake. This can make a contract void if the mistake is related to the terms of the contract.

Example: S has two vases and R wants to purchase the vase in S’s living room. S agrees but is planning to give R an identical looking vase in her den which is worth less than the vase in the living room.  S is aware of R’s mistake but allows him to continue believing that he will be purchasing the vase in the living room.  The contract is then void.

6.Mistake of identity This involves one person being mistaken for another identity and the identity is crucial aspect of the contract and the other party is aware of the mistake.

7.Clerical mistake  This situation involves the terms of the contract being written down incorrectly. If a party can show that both parties agreed to the terms of the contracts and merely wrote down the terms of the contract wrong, the court can correct the error.  Conversely, if agreement cannot be shown then the court will assess the mistake.

8. Non Est Factum This scenario is based on the idea that it is “not my act”. It means one person was ignorant about the nature of the act that they were entering into. Some examples include: being illiterate, a disability preventing the person from interpreting the contract correctly or the person has to depend on someone else to help them understand the terms.

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Sales of Goods Act

Contracts are an essential part of our everyday lives.  In fact, we often enter contracts mindlessly and do not register that we entering into an agreement for instance, when we pay for our groceries. There are various acts that outline contractual agreements in various scenarios.  This post will outline some of the essential aspects of the Sales of Goods Act.

My objective is to inform individuals of their rights as means to better protect their interests. The Sales of Goods Act applies to cases involving a contract for the sale of goods of a value that exceeds $40.00. In order for the contract to be enforceable, it must be writing unless:
1. The buyer accepts all/some/part of the goods. If the buyer accepts part of the goods it makes the contract binding as part of the exchange has been completed.

2. The buyer gives something in “earnest” to bind the contract. The term “earnest” implies the idea of giving something with sincerity and with serious intent to reinforce the contract.

3. The buyer makes partial payments on the contract. If the buyer has made partial payments on the contract the contract once again become enforceable.

This principles is similar to the principle one except the exchange is monetary rather in goods. The Sales of Goods Act applies only to goods (land, money, stocks and other non-tangible things are not included)

Part 1 of this act discusses the formation of a contract.

Section 13 outlines – implied conditions and warranties into all agreements for the sale of goods in Ontario. It also outlines

  • The condition that the seller had the RIGHT to sell the goods. If the seller did not have the right to sell the goods, the contract is void.
  • Warranties that the buyer will have quiet possession and the goods will be LIEN FREE. This implies that the seller will not be interfering with the buyer’s use of the product.
  • The choice to contract out of two above-noted points

Section 14– Implies the condition that if the goods were sold by description, they must correspond to the description. This means if you buy a product based on a specific description, then the product should reflect that description when purchased. If the product does not coincide with the advertised description you have grounds to challenge the contract and ask for a refund.

Section 15 – implies two conditions

  1. Where the goods are required for a purpose that is made known to the seller and the buyer relies upon the seller’s advice, there is a condition that the goods will be fit for that purpose (compliance).

    Scenario: You would like to buy product x from a seller and convey to the sellers that you require their advice regarding the product to make an informed decision. The seller gives you advice regarding the product and informs you that product can perform tasks a, b and c which you need it to perform. You then purchase the product based on this information.  Legally speaking, the product should perform those tasks; if not, then you have a case and ask for a refund.

  2. Where the goods are sold by description there is an implied condition the goods will be of merchantable quality.

Scenario: You buy something online based on the picture provided. When you receive the product, the product is damaged or of insufficient quality. Based on this scenario, you can ask for a refund. If the seller refuses to give you a refund you may start an action.

Section 16– implies a condition that where the goods are sold by sample that the goods must correspond to the sample.

These are the most important sections outlined in the Sales of Good Act. If you have any questions please send me a personal message on The Social Paralegal Facebook page If you believe you have a case, you may contact a paralegal to assist you with your matter.

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