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rsfell

Ontario Paralegal - Career path or waste of time?

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Someone who can get 3.3s in undergrad can probably become a paralegal, can probably pull their grades up enough to get into law school, etc. But your attitude is going to be a problem.

 

(I got a B+ on my midterm by studying 1.5 hours BEFORE my exam - long story short I have a busy schedule and planned on studying the night before the exam but fell asleep. Woke up 3 hours before the exam, took about 1.5 hours to get ready and take the bus to school).

 

You know, I've never "studied" in my life. I go to classes, professors say things, I remember them, I write them down on exams, I get 100%. Maybe I have some kind of memory disorder, I don't know. But the need to "study" for an undergraduate exam is as foreign and off-putting to me as someone saying they need to sing the alphabet song during the exam in order to remember their letters. With that background information provided, I want to say two things.

1. "Spent 90 minutes singing alphabet song, was able to remember approximately 78% of letters, at York" does not sound, to me, like an especially impressive intellect - certainly not one that entitles you to be treated like you're God's gift to the legal profession. Lawyers and paralegals have to master material much more rigorous than anything you'll find at York, and they have to do it in a lot less than ninety minutes.
2. Now that I've been an epic asshole for two paragraphs, here's the kicker: with my super brain that lets me memorize anything I want to memorize, what have I accomplished? Absolutely nothing. I have excuses, some good, some bad, but the fact is, I'm not a lawyer, and if I apply for a job as a lawyer, the guy on the other side of the table doesn't see "amazing genius who has yet to live up to his potential". He sees someone who is not a lawyer, who has not demonstrated an ability to do the job. What your real abilities, in theory, allow you to maybe do or maybe not do---that's moot. What you think your real abilities allow you to maybe do or maybe not do---that's even more moot. Quick---go ask ten people if they think they're, generally speaking, smarter than average. Seven will say yes. Three will say no, but they'll mean yes. Everyone, in their heart, is a perfect person who could have led a perfect life, if only---could've gotten As if only they'd studied, could have dated supermodels if only they'd asked out the supermodels, could have been rich if only they'd invented Facebook, which they meant to do but didn't quite get around to. But your fantasies about what you could do don't matter. And when you start weaving them into a narrative about how exceptional you are, relative to others, and start acting like they're evidence of empirical reality, it starts to become corrosive. "I got a B+ after studying for 90 minutes - I feel good about myself!" is great. "I got a B+ after studying for 90 minutes, which shows that I could have gotten an A+ after studying for a longer period of time, which shows that I am smarter than the people I would be competing with for a seat in law school!" is gross.
 

Didn't really understand what you said but thanks for contributing to the forum

 

I cannot overstate how wrong it sits with me for a newbie to thank Hegdis for contributing. It's like if I went to Buckingham Palace and said to the Queen, "Hey, thanks for coming to England!" Dude, this is an attorney trying to help you, making posts that are 95% love and 5% tough love, and you come back with this quasi-passive-aggressive malarkey?

 

Secondly, and this has absolutely nothing to do with this forum, why do you spend time and give advice here for free as you mentioned? Are you really what you claim to be? I'm just curious not skeptic.

 

Going in a few hours from "Please help me, Diplock!" to "You're not my real mom!"---again, reading your posts is like sucking air into an infected tooth, for me.

And...wait. What's this about Diplock giving advice "for free"? That was not my understanding. Anyone know how to cancel an e-mail money transfer?

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Solid advice! I pretty much got what I wanted which was advice so thanks. But I have two separate questions now.

 

Firstly, since you have the experience of working with lawyers and paralegals as you claim, I assume you know how this business works. Outside of what you have mentioned, is there anything else you can advice me on? If my goal is to become a paralegal (9-5 as you say) is there anything you can recommend I should start doing?

 

Secondly, and this has absolutely nothing to do with this forum, why do you spend time and give advice here for free as you mentioned? Are you really what you claim to be? I'm just curious not skeptic.

One of the great things about the legal profession (which may or may not be true about other professions) is that there is an ethos of helping people lower down the ladder with the only expectation that the person you help will do that for the next person. That is why lawyers like Diplock, Hegdis, Uriel, Pyke (actually I just realized that at this point the list of actual lawyers here is huge, and I am not even sure who is no longer a student which will make listing very difficult. I am a lawyer too just non practicing of that makes a difference) come here to dispense advice, because it is natural and because we were students who were helped and told that when the time comes we should help others.

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One of the great things about the legal profession (which may or may not be true about other professions) is that there is an ethos of helping people lower down the ladder with the only expectation that the person you help will do that for the next person. That is why lawyers like Diplock, Hegdis, Uriel, Pyke (actually I just realized that at this point the list of actual lawyers here is huge, and I am not even sure who is no longer a student which will make listing very difficult. I am a lawyer too just non practicing of that makes a difference) come here to dispense advice, because it is natural and because we were students who were helped and told that when the time comes we should help others.

 

I remember that happened to me some time ago also. There was a time when students who were actually even in law school were so rare on this site they could easily be counted. Now, it's increasingly a community of lawyers. I counted several dozen before I stopped trying. Admittedly, there's the more active and usual cast of characters (of which you are one) and a lot of the lawyers, like a lot of posters generally, just pop in every once in a while. But there are a lot of them.

 

In related news, there's absolutely no reason to remove yourself from the group. Granted, working as a lawyer in an in-house and non-practicing capacity is a particular career path. But when we're talking about giving advice and information to students who are looking at law school as a possibility, or are in law school, there's absolutely no reason why you have a less valid perspective. Some of those students will follow in exactly the career path that you have.

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@YB - to be fair, I was making an anal sex joke, so thanking me for my contribution was a fairly measured response to that particular comment.

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I thought you were calling out the homophobia inherent in saying "butthurt"

 

 

That too.

I've been on a crusade for years to convince people that "butthurt" is a (mild) homophobic slur, meaning "This person is too sensitive, as befits an effeminate gay homosexual who has butt sex and their butt hurts from the effeminate gay homosexual butt sex." Literally everybody insists that I'm insane and that "butthurt" is either a., gibberish, or b., a reference to spending so much time arguing on the internet that your...butt hurts from sitting in a chair? You two are the first people ever to agree with my read of the term. And in order to express my appreciation, I just want to say: thank you for contributing to the forum, and are you even lawyers?

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Credit to artsydork who has a wry delivery that tends to catch on faster than the lecture style I sometimes employ.

 

i.e. jokes can be more effective.

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I've been on a crusade for years to convince people that "butthurt" is a (mild) homophobic slur, meaning "This person is too sensitive, as befits an effeminate gay homosexual who has butt sex and their butt hurts from the effeminate gay homosexual butt sex." Literally everybody insists that I'm insane and that "butthurt" is either a., gibberish, or b., a reference to spending so much time arguing on the internet that your...butt hurts from sitting in a chair? You two are the first people ever to agree with my read of the term. And in order to express my appreciation, I just want to say: thank you for contributing to the forum, and are you even lawyers?

 

I just googled this, and some people argue that it comes from spanking children.  Like, oversensitive people are like children who have been spanked.  But that doesn't make any sense, why is an oversensitive person anymore likely to have a sore butt from spanking than any other person? 

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I thought it was from spanking as well. Not so much to indicate that the speaker is overly sensitive, but rather that their response to what you're saying is based in something other than reason or the issue at hand, such as resentment or a need to lash out (I.e., as a child's might after having been spanked). That said, it seems like the kind of thing you never encounter in mixed company, so perhaps the origins are more suspect.

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Well I might be late to this party, I just wanted to post a comment, as I feel the need to express concern regarding Paralegal Programs especially in the private career colleges.  I am a graduate of a career college, I even wrote the license examination for paralegals in February 14 2017, and I can tell you that in terms of finding a 'job', the prospects are not good at all.   I am currently unemployed.  I have been looking for work since October 2016.  Awful.  Law firms want  law clerks and legal assistants.  Hardly any want a paralegal. Unless it is a personal injury law firm, even then, law clerk is preferable.  

At this time I am considering the obvious, the possibility of working for myself as there are very little options, YES EVEN WITH A LICENSE!!  I have sent countless resumes (200) and probable had 4 interviews.  I accepted a position at a debt collections agency, which was pure hell ($15/hr).  I have a professional demeanor, very strong verbal and written skills.  Doesn't seem to matter.  Where are all the jobs?  Thanks private college for lying about all the possibilities, when there are indeed few.  Don't bother with this career path. Unless you are a millennial, with parents who have deep pockets who want to help you establish your private practise with 30 or more clients, who are willing to pay the retainer.... good luck.  Think twice.  Go to law school.  Most paralegals are struggling with anxiety, and struggle to make a living, again FEW are making the big bucks.

NP

Licensed Paralegal

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I have completed the Law Clerk Certificate Program at George Brown College St. James Campus in 2014. I passed the four courses required to get the certificate being Litigation, Corporate, Real Estate and Estates. After graduating I did not get many job offers after sending out hundreds of resumes. Lots of time wasted volunteering as well. From my experience there are too many legal professionals trying to drink from the same pond. Too much competition. The only way to make it is to know someone that can get you in or getting extremely lucky. On top of that it appears legal jobs are getting automated out. One firm downtown Toronto has a A.I program that is similar to Jeopardy’s ask and answer program Watson. It basically does all the legal research and more that any lawyer or law clerk could do in seconds. This is a bad career path and is only getting worse.

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The firm I work at employs something like forty clerks/assistants and only one paralegal (and this person was originally hired as a clerk, but went back to school while working here).

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To be honest, paralegals are not for anything that lawyers aren't, other than a cheaper alternative to lawyers.

 

Here are my problems with the paralegal regime:

 

1. I find paralegals are not well versed in things ranging from the law to how to communicate. Now and again I run into one who is very good at their job (usually because they actually know something, and on one occasion because the guy's knowledge was okay but he was very loud and forceful and clearly that strategy was working for him). Most of the times I deal with paralegals there are real language issues. Those who just don't communicate well can be problematic, but the ones who clearly barely speak English are even more of a problem since I can't do anything with them. Not that this doesn't happen with lawyers now and then as well (I've had to write back to lawyers saying I didn't understand at all what they'd written and they need to redraft it and send the communication again), but I find the incidence rate is much higher among paralegals. This impacts how that profession is perceived and sends an increasing number of people away.

 

Law Clerks and Legal Assistants are amazing. Good ones keep a firm running, great ones practically run the firm (or at least their section/lawyer's practice). What people will pay for a good legal assistant I have to imagine out strips what they'd pay for a good paralegal, if only because at that point you can just shell out for a small firm lawyer, and I find even junior lawyers pull it together better than most paralegals I meet.

 

2. The requirements demanded by colleges just aren't where they should be, and my articling students are handling small claims matters just fine. Honestly, I'm not impressed by the current paralegal regime.  A lawyer working next to me used 

 

3. The paralegal regime is taking away work that could otherwise go to law students, which reduces their usefulness and what you can get out of them to help them pay for themselves (just one more thing that adds to the articling crisis, in my opinion, or at least helps reduce wages for law students in a lot of firms).

 

4. There is a glut of paralegals. While there is a demand for professionals who can handle lawyer type of matters more cheaply, many just aren't up to the challenge. Even the licensed immigration consultants aren't that up to the challenge. One business is bringing me in for their immigration work because the immigration consultant they hired couldn't get a single application approved. In taking it over I've been finding that the applications were just not completed properly, and potential issues weren't being addressed as part of the process. Again, it must sound like a great idea for the public to get legal services from someone cheaper than a lawyer, but if you're not getting what you paid for then you're not saving anything, just wasting. It's like when people bring me wills to update that they've had done for $80 to $100. They've been invalid because of how and/or who has executed the damn thing as a witness, or entire provisions have been left out (including how to identify a person who is being left something).

 

5. We need quality control, at all levels, and we just aren't getting it. On the upside, as a lawyer, that means the assumption is usually that I'm going to be absolutely fine at something that a paralegal might make a mess of. The downside is that this is the exact same calculation that I believe the large firms are making. They don't want stricter standards because it would be more stuff for them to comply with, and more importantly it deters customers from going to cheaper law firms because of the examples of how awful things can be at the bottom. They will keep more customers that way.

 

Becoming a paralegal is cheap and quick, especially relative to becoming a lawyer. The downside is that the program is therefore built for someone with no more than a high school level of education, and unless you're going to self-teach your way to be really good at your job (and also to sell yourself far and wide to get clients), you're probably going to have a hard time distinguishing yourself or even meeting the level of service that your clients need (I can tell you that it's pretty sad when I know I'm going to have an easy win just because of who I'm up against on the other side, and that I know I'm getting my way because the other side hired a paralegal who knows absolutely nothing about what they're practicing).

 

If you want a steady job in law and can't or won't do law school, then I think law clerk or legal assistant is the way to go. Get good and you'll become indispensable to your firm. Become a paralegal and you'll just have to compete in that market, and even if you get really good you can't price yourself too high or people will likely just spring for lawyers (and the prices for lawyers are coming down a lot because of the market competition and the number of us who turned to solo practice due to a lack of associate jobs.

 

I also disagree with Diplock about encouraging the growth of paralegal responsibilities as being a good thing. I think there's a reason why we're the only jurisdiction that licenses them and allows them to do this, and it's not because we're particularly progressive. I think there has been a need that just wasn't being fulfilled by the number of lawyers we have, and we decided this was a better idea than just opening more law schools, tweaking articling practices, and having a harder Bar exam to filter out those who shouldn't practice.

 

But that's all based on my experience, and admittedly it is limited in view and represents a small sample size.

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Well, if you’re in BC you will have been disappointed by the vote yestreday. We are setting up to have paralegals represent family court litigants despite a former Justice of the family court being vocally and vehemently opposed, not to mention the vast majority of the Family Bar. 

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On 12/5/2018 at 4:54 PM, QueensGrad said:

To be honest, paralegals are not for anything that lawyers aren't, other than a cheaper alternative to lawyers.

 

Here are my problems with the paralegal regime:

 

1. I find paralegals are not well versed in things ranging from the law to how to communicate. Now and again I run into one who is very good at their job (usually because they actually know something, and on one occasion because the guy's knowledge was okay but he was very loud and forceful and clearly that strategy was working for him). Most of the times I deal with paralegals there are real language issues. Those who just don't communicate well can be problematic, but the ones who clearly barely speak English are even more of a problem since I can't do anything with them. Not that this doesn't happen with lawyers now and then as well (I've had to write back to lawyers saying I didn't understand at all what they'd written and they need to redraft it and send the communication again), but I find the incidence rate is much higher among paralegals. This impacts how that profession is perceived and sends an increasing number of people away.

 

Law Clerks and Legal Assistants are amazing. Good ones keep a firm running, great ones practically run the firm (or at least their section/lawyer's practice). What people will pay for a good legal assistant I have to imagine out strips what they'd pay for a good paralegal, if only because at that point you can just shell out for a small firm lawyer, and I find even junior lawyers pull it together better than most paralegals I meet.

 

2. The requirements demanded by colleges just aren't where they should be, and my articling students are handling small claims matters just fine. Honestly, I'm not impressed by the current paralegal regime.  A lawyer working next to me used 

 

3. The paralegal regime is taking away work that could otherwise go to law students, which reduces their usefulness and what you can get out of them to help them pay for themselves (just one more thing that adds to the articling crisis, in my opinion, or at least helps reduce wages for law students in a lot of firms).

 

4. There is a glut of paralegals. While there is a demand for professionals who can handle lawyer type of matters more cheaply, many just aren't up to the challenge. Even the licensed immigration consultants aren't that up to the challenge. One business is bringing me in for their immigration work because the immigration consultant they hired couldn't get a single application approved. In taking it over I've been finding that the applications were just not completed properly, and potential issues weren't being addressed as part of the process. Again, it must sound like a great idea for the public to get legal services from someone cheaper than a lawyer, but if you're not getting what you paid for then you're not saving anything, just wasting. It's like when people bring me wills to update that they've had done for $80 to $100. They've been invalid because of how and/or who has executed the damn thing as a witness, or entire provisions have been left out (including how to identify a person who is being left something).

 

5. We need quality control, at all levels, and we just aren't getting it. On the upside, as a lawyer, that means the assumption is usually that I'm going to be absolutely fine at something that a paralegal might make a mess of. The downside is that this is the exact same calculation that I believe the large firms are making. They don't want stricter standards because it would be more stuff for them to comply with, and more importantly it deters customers from going to cheaper law firms because of the examples of how awful things can be at the bottom. They will keep more customers that way.

 

Becoming a paralegal is cheap and quick, especially relative to becoming a lawyer. The downside is that the program is therefore built for someone with no more than a high school level of education, and unless you're going to self-teach your way to be really good at your job (and also to sell yourself far and wide to get clients), you're probably going to have a hard time distinguishing yourself or even meeting the level of service that your clients need (I can tell you that it's pretty sad when I know I'm going to have an easy win just because of who I'm up against on the other side, and that I know I'm getting my way because the other side hired a paralegal who knows absolutely nothing about what they're practicing).

 

If you want a steady job in law and can't or won't do law school, then I think law clerk or legal assistant is the way to go. Get good and you'll become indispensable to your firm. Become a paralegal and you'll just have to compete in that market, and even if you get really good you can't price yourself too high or people will likely just spring for lawyers (and the prices for lawyers are coming down a lot because of the market competition and the number of us who turned to solo practice due to a lack of associate jobs.

 

I also disagree with Diplock about encouraging the growth of paralegal responsibilities as being a good thing. I think there's a reason why we're the only jurisdiction that licenses them and allows them to do this, and it's not because we're particularly progressive. I think there has been a need that just wasn't being fulfilled by the number of lawyers we have, and we decided this was a better idea than just opening more law schools, tweaking articling practices, and having a harder Bar exam to filter out those who shouldn't practice.

 

But that's all based on my experience, and admittedly it is limited in view and represents a small sample size.

I don't necessarily agree with all of your post, but do agree that the standards should be much higher to get licenced. 

If you go back through the history of non lawyers providing legal services, I don't think anyone ever contemplated being a paralegal as a stand alone career. Back in the day, paralegals were people who had a great deal of knowledge and experience in one statute or one area of law. As an example, there are many paralegals who prior to becoming paralegals worked for the ministry of labour, the office of the workers' adviser, or WSIB. They know the WSIB regulations inside and out and are quite good at advocating on behalf of clients who have been denied benefits. Put them in front of a court or different tribunal dealing with a different statute and they are like fish out of water. (There are other example ie, ex-police officers and the HTA, no need to list them all)

Under the current licencing regime a lot of that has been lost. Now people do contemplate becoming a paralegal as a stand alone career, without prior experience or knowledge. And this I think is why you are seeing what you see out in the real world. 

The process to become a paralegal should be made harder. There should be some minimal educational requirements such as a degree. The licencing exam should be more difficult. Graduated or restricted licencing should be put into place. And I think you may see that in Ontario when the paralegal scope of practice is expanded to include family law. 

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On 12/5/2018 at 4:57 PM, Hegdis said:

Well, if you’re in BC you will have been disappointed by the vote yestreday. We are setting up to have paralegals represent family court litigants despite a former Justice of the family court being vocally and vehemently opposed, not to mention the vast majority of the Family Bar. 

If the family law bar wants to retain the ability to be the exclusive provider of family law services it needs to come up with better arguments and a solution to the issue of unrepresented litigants. Without doing so their complaints just sound self serving. 

I don't know the accuracy of the statistics, however there is a very high percentage of family law litigants that are self represented.  Lawyers can't honestly argue that having no representation is preferable to having some representation, even if it is inferior to the representation that would be provided by a lawyer. 

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I will make that argument. A judge is required to keep watch over a self rep and ensure they are aware of the applicable law and procedures. A judge is educated fully in the law.

No such protection exists for a person represented by an incompetent lawyer or a paralegal. I am not taking the position that a paralegal could never be competent - but I will say they are less trained in the law and less likely to be aware of and react appropriately to the multifaceted issues that occur in family law  - for example, the potentially hazardous intersection between criminal, tax, immigration and family files.

Family law is complicated and difficult. Permitting underprepared and undereducated people to act as counsel for litigants invites a bigger mess and greater risk to litigants who will believe they are being fully protected when they aren’t. It is not the solution.

The solution is better funding for actual lawyers and reinstallation of the legal aid programs and family court programs gutted by the government in the 1990s. The solution is money to pay for the level of service the public need - not to lower the quality of that service because no one wants to subsidize it. 

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14 minutes ago, Hegdis said:

I will make that argument. A judge is required to keep watch over a self rep and ensure they are aware of the applicable law and procedures. A judge is educated fully in the law.

No such protection exists for a person represented by an incompetent lawyer or a paralegal. I am not taking the position that a paralegal could never be competent - but I will say they are less trained in the law and less likely to be aware of and react appropriately to the multifaceted issues that occur in family law  - for example, the potentially hazardous intersection between criminal, tax, immigration and family files.

Family law is complicated and difficult. Permitting underprepared and undereducated people to act as counsel for litigants invites a bigger mess and greater risk to litigants who will believe they are being fully protected when they aren’t. It is not the solution.

The solution is better funding for actual lawyers and reinstallation of the legal aid programs and family court programs gutted by the government in the 1990s. The solution is money to pay for the level of service the public need - not to lower the quality of that service because no one wants to subsidize it. 

[emphasis added]

I may agree what the ideal would be, but that's not going to happen (at least not anytime soon) so shouldn't we be looking at minimizing damage, doing something that is better than nothing?

I mean, if say people in a town are dying due to lack of medical treatment, ideal is a physician. But if you can't get a physician, you get a nurse practitioner. If you can't, you get a nurse. If you can't, you get a paramedic. If you can't, you get people with first aid training and/or offer such training to the people in town. What you don't do is say, let them die, because only a physician can provide the necessary competent level of medical treatment.

Also, judges descending into the fray as it were run the risk of apparent bias against the represented party, or a different concern, giving a false sense of security that the rights of the self-rep are protected merely because a judge may say or do a few things to help.

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No, because it’s an inadequate bandaid the government can point to to justify no further increase in funding, even though the system is still bleeding. 

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