Your assistance requested for paralegal certification survey
May 16, 2003
The Law Society's Paralegal Task Force is seeking input from paralegals in BC on a proposed paralegal certification scheme and asks BC lawyers to assist.
The Law Society is considering certification as a way of raising the profile of paralegals in law firms and law-related workplaces and ensuring that members of the public in BC fully recognize and derive the benefits of paralegals working with lawyers in the delivery of legal services. The Task Force is also of the view that it is to the advantage of BC lawyers to use paralegals in the delivery of legal services as effectively as possible to ensure the profession meets current and future marketplace competition.
Invite your paralegals to complete a survey
The Task Force asks all BC lawyers who supervise the work of paralegals to invite those paralegals to 1) review online information on the proposed certification scheme and 2) complete an online survey on paralegal certification.
Both the survey and background information can be found at www.lawsociety.bc.ca/library/survey/body_survey_paralegal.html. This direct web path is needed to access the survey as there are no other advertised links on the Law Society website. Only paralegals should complete this survey.
The purpose of the survey is three-fold:
1. to gauge support for and interest in a paralegal certification program;
2. to determine if the proposed certification standards of the Paralegal Task Force are appropriate, too high or too low; and
3. to ensure input on the proposal from paralegals throughout the province.
The deadline for completion of the survey is May 30, 2003.
Definition of paralegal
For the purpose of the survey, the Paralegal Task Force considers paralegals to be those employees working under a lawyer's supervision who have an understanding of substantive and procedural law in a general or specialty area of practice, who use analytical skills and who originate their own work.
In practical terms, paralegals draft documents, gather information and research issues. They are responsible for tracking and recording billable time on files. They may be responsible for managing client and file information and setting up organizational systems to manage the paper flow on files. They coordinate communications with clients, other law firms, agents and others. They are able to resolve issues relating to legal procedures and are proactive in keeping up to date with changes relating to those procedures, including filing and limitation dates, statutory provisions and regulations in their area(s) of work.
The Paralegal Task Force has adopted the term "paralegal" rather than "legal assistant" for clarity. Because the term "secretary" is now less commonly used in business and professional offices, legal secretaries in some law firms have come to be called legal assistants even if they perform no paralegal functions.
A paralegal is therefore to be distinguished from an administrative assistant or secretary who types correspondence and legal documents from dictation or instructions from the lawyer; maintains, organizes, opens and closes files; keeps client file lists; performs administrative duties or does the preliminary drafting of correspondence and legal documents from standard precedents.
Next steps in considering paralegal certification
The survey is a preliminary step in a process that may lead to the certification of paralegals. This depends on a number of factors. First, Task Force consultations must show a sufficient level of support for certification among paralegals and lawyers. Second, any certification proposal recommended by the Task Force would require approval of the Benchers of the Law Society. Third, the Law Society would need to determine whether it derives from the Legal Profession Act the necessary authority to certify paralegals and, if not, whether the Act could be amended to provide that authority.
The Task Force is also looking at whether paralegals could offer more services under lawyer supervision. Any such expansion of services would require a review of legislation and extensive consultation, not only with paralegals and lawyers, but with the courts and administrative tribunals.
Each paralegal should complete the survey only once
It is possible that paralegals who have more than one supervising lawyer could receive more than one invitation to participate in this survey. As well, paralegals who are members of the BC Association of Legal Assistants or the Canadian Association of Paralegals may be contacted by those organizations to encourage their participation. Each paralegal should nevertheless complete the survey only once.
Questions or comments?
Thank you for taking the time to bring the survey to the attention of the paralegals who work under your supervision.
As a lawyer, you are invited to review the online information on the paralegal certification proposal (see "What's New" at www.lawsociety.bc.ca).
Please feel free to relay any of your own questions or comments by email, fax or mail to:
The Paralegal Task Force
c/o Carmel Wiseman, Staff Lawyer, Policy and Legal Services
Law Society of British Columbia
845 Cambie Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 4Z9
Fax: (604) 443-5770
Jo Ann Carmichael, QC
Chair, Paralegal Task Force