1. What is the difference between a Paralegal and a Lawyer?
Lawyers have at least three years of university before Law School, where they spend approximately three years. This is an undergraduate professional program resulting a J.D. (Juris Doctor) or LLB. This is followed by articles or a similar hands-on program called Law Practice Program, followed by practice related courses. A Lawyer candidate then writes exams. A Paralegal takes a college program that lasts between two to four years, participates in a placement and then writes a Law Society Exam. Paralegals at this time do not require university training. Both, however, are assessed, licensed and regulated by the Law Society of Ontario.
Lawyers can handle any legal matter, ranging from criminal to family to personal injury to real estate and wills/estates. They often specialize in certain areas of law and market their specialty to the public. For example, there are lawyers that only practice criminal law, while others are strictly involved in wills and real estate. At this time, paralegals handle small claims matters (civil suits under $25,000), accident benefit claims, provincial offences (which includes highway traffic matters but can include much more), most administrative tribunals and minor criminal charges. Again, paralegals often focus their practice in similar ways that lawyers do. For example, many paralegals focus on traffic court or Provincial Offences.
Both Lawyers and Paralegals vary widely in their actual backgrounds and education. This often leads them to their practice focus. Many paralegals do have law school, while others have PHds. Some lawyers are also licensed in other professions, such as engineering or medicine. It is impossible to paint either profession with one brush, assuming that one has more knowledge or is “better” than the other in respective areas.
2. Are paralegals cheaper than lawyers?
In some cases, this may be true. However, some very experienced paralegals may offer services in specific areas they developed a broad knowledge base in and could demand higher fees. Paralegals, however, as a profession try to be as cost-effective as possible when setting their fees. Many charge flat fees for services that are done similarly each time. Other charge block fees for different stages or steps in a matter, such as litigation. Others mix block fees with hourly fees. As the growth of the paralegal profession matures, some areas of practice are dominated by paralegals and experienced professionals in these areas can demand higher fees.
3. Are paralegals less accountable than lawyers?
No. Both paralegals and lawyers are governed and licensed by the Law Society of Ontario and must follow similar rules of conduct. These professions must update their knowledge and skills every year and demonstrate this to the regulator. Lawyers and paralegals both carry insurance to protect their clients from malpractice, as well as pay into a fund that compensates clients for dishonest conduct.
4. Is it a conflict for the Law Society of Ontario to regulate both paralegals and lawyers?
There are still members of either profession that believe this is the case. Many paralegals believe the Law Society puts up barriers to paralegals expanding their practice areas. Some lawyers feel that the Law Society has no business including paralegals at all. However, both professions are maturing and new members are joining all the time. Trends in business practice are beginning to show more cooperation and partnership between the two professions. While it is still rare for paralegals and lawyers to be partners in the same firm, there are some firms where this is happening in Ontario.
5. Is the legal profession a high income profession?
Like any profession, there are many people who do quite well. Lawyers at the top of multi-lawyer and established firms tend to be the most well off, as well as those in certain specialties, such as personal injury law. Less lucrative careers for lawyers are likely in criminal (mostly Legal Aid driven) or family law. Many lawyers earn less than $50,000 a year. There is a similar income range for paralegals as well. However, on average paralegals do not tend to earn as much income as lawyers, although that may soon change as new business models become popular among paralegals.
6. Does Browne & Associates Legal Services PC have a position with respect to the paralegal profession?
As the principal and founder of Browne & Associates Legal Services has worked with a number of lawyers over the years, she does not have any issues. At some point in time, this firm intends to partner with interested lawyers to allow its clients to access a broader range of legal supports at a reasonable cost. At the same time, this firm has provided opportunities for numerous paralegals at various stages of their careers to learn, participate and grow in their respective areas of practice. With the trend toward forming more firms and partnerships between paralegals, Browne & Associates Legal Services PC hopes to develop and enhance further areas of practice, geographic and technological delivery.