The Social Paralegal

Legal Research vs. Intellectual Technology

paralegalOne may argue that the backbone of law is legal research but what if legal personnel were no longer required to fill this need?

With technology making its way into every aspect of our lives, it isn’t surprising that incorporated intellectual technology is predicted to overtake simple legal research tasks and replace legal researchers.

On the one hand, this may be a relief to clients as they will no longer be billed for the long hours legal professions spend researching information. Clients will pay a fraction of the price as the intellectual technology will have the ability to obtain the information in a short time span. As legal intellectual technology progresses, the legal searches will become more complex and the answers will be provided much better. Everyone wins! Right? Not exactly.

moneyMany legal professionals, such as paralegals have dedicated a significant amount of their academic careers to master the art of legal research. In larger law firms, lawyers often rely on Paralegals to conduct legal research at a fraction of the cost the lawyers would charge if they had done the research themselves. For an illustration, imagine a lawyer who is paid $300 per hour he/she would charge that amount for every hour spent on finding the answers the client requires. Legal research can vary from a quick 30-minute search to 10 hours of research or more. That’s anywhere from $150 – 3000. Conversely, if a paralegal conducts the search, the lawyer will charge the client much less, for example $100/hr. Consequently, the client pays anywhere from $50 – 1000.

Although many clients believe that $100 for research is excessive, some legal professionals argue that it may seem simplistic but is far from it. Legal professionals are liable for the information they provide, so there is a need for thoroughness. Legal research requires reliable sources which can sometimes result in hours of reading through a statute, case law and government websites. Every issue is treated in a unique manner to assure the best results.

Furthermore, sources are then compared to check for consistency and address any gaps in information. After conducting research, the information is then simplified to ensure that the client can understand what is being conveyed.

What’s your opinion- would you prefer intellectual technology or individuals conducting research on your behalf?

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Points of Discussion:
1. How do you feel about the progression of intellectual technology in the legal field?



A Free Women’s Clinic

Everyone should have access to justice but reality can be very different. Over the past 14 years, B.C has reduced its legal aid funding by 40%, leaving many individuals without the assistance they require. Although legal aid provides individuals with up to 25 hours of legal assistance this is far from sufficient for most women.

money Impact

A 40% decrease in funding only leaves enough funding to protect women in high conflict circumstances such as domestic violence victims. Consequently, many women who are not able to obtain legal representation while their husbands can, lose their cases in court. Women are often forced to represent themselves and unable to obtain the same access to justice as someone who would have more resources. Mothers involved in divorce matters are particularly impacted by less funding if they are the primary caregivers for the child but can’t afford a lawyer. For this reason, many paralegals have argued for the chance to represent individuals who cannot afford representation.

 untitledRise Women’s Legal Centre

The Rise Women’s Legal Centre is targeted towards women who require the kind of assistance noted above. Prior to its opening, the phone was already ringing with women seeking help. The lawyers involved were barely surprised as they understood the need for such a clinic. The clinic is situated in British Columbia and made up of multiple lawyers and law students. In Ontario, Paralegals are now permitted to practice family law with the assistance of a lawyer. The courts had declared a legal crisis when numerous individuals chose to self-represent in family law cases as they were unable to afford lawyers.  Individuals were stuck in a limbo where they couldn’t afford legal representation but they also didn’t qualify for legal aid. As a result of self-representation, documents were misfiled and had to be corrected and resubmitted, legal procedures had to be explained in more detail and legal proceedings were delayed.


Do you believe this is a step in the right direction?

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Transgender developments Bill C-16

The Liberal government promised equality and change, Bill C-16 may be a step in that direction. B C-16 was proposed by the Liberal party in the House of Commons this Tuesday. Simply put Bill C- 16 would help legally protect transgendered individuals.

Many individuals are not familiar with the differences between being a transsexual and being transgendered. Sexuality is related to biology, specifically genitalia. Conversely, gender is a social concept and allows an individual to choose what they identify with. Gender is rooted in social constructions of what it means to be male, female or genderless, irrelevant to one’s anatomy. Transgendered individuals usually identify with a gender that differs from how society may categorize them. Consequently, this leads to complex legal issues.

Every_Canadian_Needs_A_CopyBill C-16 proposes to protect transgendered individuals in the following ways:

  1. The Human Rights Act will expand to protect individuals based on their “gender identity” and “gender expression”. Thus, individuals would be protected from being discriminated based on how one chooses to express their gender and what gender they identify with. For example, if a female chooses to wear a tux to prom, she will not be removed from prom due to her attire (this is a real life example). Individuals will also be protected against being denied a job based on their gender expression; for instance, if a male chooses to express himself as a female, he cannot be denied employment on these grounds.
  2. The Criminal Code of Canada would also be amended to protect individuals from hate speech based on their gender identity and gender expression. Judges will be required to consider the use of such language as aggravating factors in a case. For instance, if someone is assaulted due to their appearance and are called words like “faggot”, “dyke” or “she-male” these terms will be viewed as aggravating factors and result in a more serious conviction.

This bill was proposed a half a dozen times before by the New Democrat party but it was shot down every time. This is the first time that the bill has been brought forward by the party in power. Many MP’s are hoping that the legislation will be passed this time. If this bill is passed, Paralegals will be able to defend victims at the Human Rights Tribunal.

Stay tuned to TSP for more developments!
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Security vs. Privacy

CCTV_Surveillance_Notice_svgEveryone wants to feel secure in their home and neighborhood. Many individuals and families take measures to help protect their families from harm including: locking their doors, installing security systems, and closed circuit video systems (CCTV). The presence of CCTV’s in particular, is used to deter perpetrators from committing crimes due to a fear of being caught. Although this mechanism can be effective for some, it can also create hindrance of privacy for others, especially neighbours.

Few individuals question the presence of surveillance cameras placed on their neighbour’s property, in fact, for some it is a sense of relief, especially if one does not have their own camera. These devices can help identify individuals involved in criminal or deviant behavior and serves as a reliable source of evidence in cases.

The issue arises when individuals who are not committing a crime or deviant act are under surveillance without their consent and without knowledge. Surveillance cameras often cover a larger portion of the premises than just one property or lot. Hence, many cameras will also capture the comings and goings of neighbours. Furthermore, some of these cameras can be angled to look directly into a neighbours home, through a window for example. Imagine someone being able to peer into your home without your knowledge – that’s a scary thought for many individuals.

Although cameras can violate a neighbours right to privacy, it also upholds the right to safety for the person installing the camera. With two conflicting rights – who would win? It is likely that the person who has installed their camera would be able to keep their camera so long as they agreed to not violate their neighbours rights to privacy. The complainant would likely be encouraged to shut their blinds to mitigate surveillance as well. Sometimes a discussion with your neighbor can help alleviate any tension and diffuse a potential violation of privacy law suit.

There are some parts of Ontario, such as Hamilton, that have in place by-laws to help regulate the use of cameras. Conversely, in B.C the laws are far less regulated and even ambiguous.

A CCTV system can assist police officers in solving issues far quicker than two individuals providing their verbal accounts of a situation. In fact, in dispute situations, police officers regularly check CCTV systems to gather information and draw conclusions.

What do you think – are CCTV’s an effective tool or a nuisance and violation of privacy?
What carries more weight, privacy rights or safety?

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Requirement or discrimination? You be the judge.

schoolMany universities require students to fulfil academic requirements also referred to as prerequisites in order to obtain their degrees. Successful completion of these courses is meant to prepare the student for success in their career choices. Although many individuals find the experience unnecessary and even frustrating, few would argue that it is a discriminatory. However, James Lewicki did just that – what is your opinion?

James Lewicki suffers from dyslexia, which presents challenges for him to learn new languages. When Lewicki applied to the University of Ottawa for a masters in political science he was surprised to learn that the degree required him to take a French class. Lewicki argued that English was challenging enough for him to learn and French would be next to impossible to learn. He offered to take the course with a translator but such accommodation was not permissible.

Officials advised Lewicki to pursue a different area of study, preferably one with less of a focus on French. Canada is heavily rooted in its use of bilingualism especially in respect to political issues and personalities. Political debates among Parliamentary candidates running for Prime Minister are also carried out in French along with English. Children are taught French in elementary school through grade 9 as a requirement to graduate.

Every_Canadian_Needs_A_CopyLewicki is suggesting his human rights have been violated. Lewicki is arguing that he is a victim of discrimination due to his disability. He believes the school is being unreasonable in not accommodating him as only English speaking students are required to take French courses but French speaking students are not required to take English courses as prerequisites. Lewicki feels that the school’s refusal to accommodate him is a method to tell him to “go somewhere else”.

Conversely, the school argues that he not being restricted from pursuing his masters in political science at the University of Ottawa due to his disability but rather because he fails to meet the requirements – a working knowledge of French and being able to take a course in French. Officials argue that this tradition has been in place for decades before this case arose. Supporters of this mindset suggest that the school’s traditions should be honored and Lewicki should attend another university.

Advocates for Lewicki’s case argue that the school is being inflexible and should accommodate his case. Furthermore, they argue that his human rights are being trumped due to discrimination based on his disability. Lewicki has found support with individuals who argue that the school’s accommodation would address an ongoing issue of discrimination and help bring about a positive change for others in similar situations.

What are your thoughts? Should he be accommodated for?
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PTSD Legislation for First Responders

Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) impacts many individuals in stressful occupations. Ontario recently passed legislation that permits victims of post-traumatic stress disorder to obtain coverage under the Workplace Safety Insurance Act (WSIA). However, not everyone will receive coverage under this new legislation.

Who is covered?

The new legislation will cover:

  1. Police officersff
  2. Firefighters
  3. Paramedics
  4. Workers in Correctional Institutions
  5. First Nation emergency response teams
  6. Emergency medical attendants 7. Dispatch workers
  7. Ambulance service managers

When individuals belonging to these groups apply for PSTD insurance, it will be assumed to be for work-related reasons. These individuals are often exposed to high-stress and traumatizing experiences including: death, violence and emotionally draining situations. Exposure to high-stress circumstances can result in first responders suffering from anxiety disorders, substance abuse issues, suicidal thoughts and homelessness. Prior to this legislation, workers were required to prove that their stress was related to work; thus the onus was on the workers to prove that they are entitled to be insured. The government has extended this service to 73,000 first responders.

Doctors advice online

Who is excluded?

Nurses are not eligible for PTSD insurance under the WSIA. Many nurses expressed their outrage and frustration publicly. Nurses argued that they are also exposed to traumatizing situations that can be detrimental to their health. Some doctors have supported this claim and urged that the legislation be changed sooner rather than later as a postponed treatment for PTSD can have harmful effects on individuals.

Conversely, others believe that nurses are not subjected to the same level of stress and traumatizing experiences as firefighters, police officers and others covered under the act and thus should not be covered under the act. Individuals argue that nurses are not routinely exposed to such environments or circumstances where they are in a constant state of life or death for themselves or their patients.

What are your thoughts?

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Points of Discussion:

1. Do you believe nurses should be covered under the WSIA?
2. Does your country provide similar services for first responders?


Victims of Sexual Assault Will Be Eligible for Free Legal Advice

untitledOntario is looking to a launch a pilot program that allows victims of sexual abuse to obtain free legal advice. Survivors of sexual assault will have access to four hours of free legal advice in aims to help them navigate the legal system.

Legal proceedings are complicated and can be overwhelming for victims who are unfamiliar with the justice system. As explained in my last piece  the victims in the Jian Ghomeshi case explained that they mistakenly believed the Prosecution was their legal counsel. The victims felt embarrassed and attacked on the stand as they were not prepared for the line of questioning used in the trial.  The victims in the Jian Ghomeshi case explained that they expected to be cross-examined by police officers before the trial to help prepare them to be cross-examined in court; however, this is not how the legal system works.

question markQuestioning:

Direct examination or examination in chief consists of a witness is being asked questions by the party that asked the witness to appear in court. For example, if I asked you to appear in court to support my case, you’d be my witness and I would use your testimony to support my arguments. The type of questions asked are generally less invasive and the approach is less aggressive than cross-examination.

Conversely, when a witness is cross -examined (which follows the direct examination), it is led by the oppositions legal agent who is attempting to discredit the testimony of the other party by asking more detailed questions to establish any inconsistencies. This type of questioning is generally portrayed more aggressively in television shows.

Following this, there is a chance for the legal agent who questioned you in direct examination to ask any final questions to help clarify answers that may have been misconstrued in cross-examination. In this line of questioning, the legal agent can only ask questions and address points brought to light in the cross-examination; thus, no new arguments can be made.

The new pilot program wants to address the above – noted concerns and misconceptions to allow victims to make informed decisions regarding their cases. This program also aims to help victims navigate the system more efficiently by equipping with the knowledge as to what a sexual assault trial entails.

The new Ontario pilot program would be implemented in Toronto, Thunder Bay and Ottawa. If the program is successful it is proposed to be practiced throughout Canada. This program aligns with Kathleen Wynne’s “It’s Never Okay” policy that argued sexual assault is never okay. The program will be used to gather data and evidence that will help shape future policies.

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Points of Discussion:

1. How do you feel about this new policy? Do you think it will be effective? Should we implement this policy?

  1. Is there a similar policy in your country? Would you want this type of policy implemented?