Proposal for a Law Society Paralegal Certification Scheme

A proposal of the Paralegal Task Force for discussion and comment

May, 2003

Background

In 2002 the Benchers asked the Paralegal Task Force to propose a certification program for paralegals who work under the supervision of BC lawyers and to consider expanding the functions of paralegals beyond what is now permitted by Chapter 12 of the Professional Conduct Handbook: for background see the September-October, 2002 Benchers' Bulletin.

A Law Society paralegal certification scheme is intended to raise the profile of law firm paralegals, ensuring that members of the public in BC fully recognize and derive the benefits of paralegals working with lawyers - quality legal services, lower costs and better access to justice. 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.

The Paralegal Task Force is comprised of Vancouver lawyer and former Bencher Jo Ann Carmichael, QC, Chair, Victoria Bencher Ralston Alexander, QC, Vancouver Bencher Robert Gourlay, QC, Lay Benchers Patrick Kelly and Patrick Nagle, Life Bencher Brian Wallace, QC and non-Bencher members Jaynie Clark and Margot Spence.

What is a paralegal?

No certification scheme currently exists for paralegals in BC, and anyone may use the title "legal assistant" or "paralegal." This has the potential for confusion in the minds of clients as to the qualifications of staff to whom lawyers delegate work and responsibility.

A "paralegal" is an employee working under a lawyer's supervision who has an understanding of substantive and procedural law, in either a general or limited area of practice, uses analytical skills and originates his or her 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.

In this proposal, the Paralegal Task Force has adopted the term "paralegal" rather than "legal assistant" for clarity. Since the title "secretary" is now less common 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.

What are the key features of paralegal certification?

The certification proposal is based on the following premises:

  • The Law Society will have authority under the Legal Profession Act to certify paralegals;
  • The title "certified paralegal" will be protected and only granted to those persons who meet specified qualifications; and
  • Certified paralegals will continue to work under the supervision of lawyers.

Proposal for a general certification scheme

The Paralegal Task Force has determined that the curricula of the Capilano College legal assistant diploma and certificate programs should serve as the benchmark for paralegal education in British Columbia. The Task Force anticipates that other colleges in the province will develop curricula to meet specific criteria the Paralegal Task Force expects to develop based on this benchmark.

Categories of applicants for general certification

Subject to the grandparenting certification scheme, the Task Force proposes that the following categories of applicants be eligible to apply for general certification:

  • Graduates of Canadian law schools

Graduates of Canadian law schools may apply for certification, provided they have completed one year of legal or paralegal work experience in British Columbia in the preceding five years.

  • Graduates of approved Canadian paralegal programs

Graduates of recognized Canadian paralegal programs that meet specified criteria may apply for certification, provided those graduates have completed one year of paralegal work experience in British Columbia in the preceding five years.

At present, the Task Force views the Capilano College Legal Assistant diploma and certicate programs as the benchmark for paralegal education in BC, and graduates of either of those programs who have completed one year of paralegal work experience in BC accordingly may apply for certification.

  • Applicants who graduate from Canadian paralegal programs of recognized Canadian institutions but which programs do not meet specified criteria

Graduates of paralegal programs that do not meet specific criteria set by the Law Society may apply for certification provided they successfully pass a challenge exam and have completed one year of paralegal work experience in British Columbia in the preceding five years.

  • Graduates of paralegal programs from other common law jurisdictions

Graduates of paralegal programs offered by recognized institutions in other common law countries may apply for certification provided they successfully pass a challenge exam and have completed one year of paralegal work experience in British Columbia in the preceding five years.

  • Applicants holding an LL.B or equivalent degree from common law jurisdictions outside Canada

Applicants who hold an LL.B. or equivalent degree from a law school in a common law jurisdiction may apply for certification provided they:

  • have completed one year of legal or paralegal work experience in British Columbia in the preceding five years; or
  • have completed one year of legal or paralegal work experience outside British Columbia in the preceding five years and have successfully passed a challenge exam.

Proposal for a grandparenting certification scheme

The Paralegal Task Force recognizes that BC paralegals have diverse backgrounds, including those who have graduated from the Capilano College, Selkirk College, Vancouver Community College or other college legal assistant programs, those who have an LL.B from a common law jurisdiction and those who have legal work experience and no formal legal training.

The Paralegal Task Force identified four factors that must be considered when evaluating the different work and educational experience of paralegals for the purpose of certification. The Task Force considers of key importance an applicant's:

  • knowledge of procedural law;
  • knowledge of substantive law;
  • practical skills; and
  • analytical skills.

In recognition of the diversity of paralegal backgrounds, the Paralegal Task Force is proposing two categories of applicants who may apply for paralegal certification through special grandparenting provisions, provided they do so within five years of the commencement of a general paralegal certification program. After the five-year period, the grandparenting provisions would expire and applicants would have to meet general certification requirements.

Categories of applicants for certification through grandparenting

  • Graduates of the Vancouver Community College or Selkirk College legal assistant programs

Graduates of the legal assistant programs of either Vancouver Community College or Selkirk College who have three years of paralegal work experience in British Columbia in the preceding five years may apply for certification.

  • Paralegals with work experience only

Persons who have completed 10 years of legal work experience in British Columbia, including at least five years of paralegal work experience, in the preceding 15 years may apply for certification.

*   *   *

For convenience, a tabular summary of criteria for the proposed general certification scheme and grandparenting certification scheme appear in Appendix A.

Application requirements

The Paralegal Task Force proposes that all applicants for paralegal certification, whether under the general certification scheme or under grandparenting provisions, make application by submitting to the Law Society:

  • a completed application form;
  • proof of graduation from a particular educational institution (as applicable to the category of applicant);
  • proof of paralegal work experience, as evidenced by a statutory declaration of the applicant's supervising lawyer;
  • a resume with references;
  • a criminal records check; and
  • the applicable fee(s).

The Task Force proposes that certified paralegals be required to renew their certification annually and pay a renewal fee commensurate with the cost of operating the program. Consideration is also being given to mandatory continuing legal education for certified paralegals.

Next steps

The Paralegal Task Force proposal is published for comment and consultation.

In this spirit, the Task Force invites comments from BC lawyers on the proposal and is also undertaking a web survey of paralegals in law firms and legal workplaces across BC. For more information on the survey, see the notice to the profession distributed by broadcast email and fax on May 16, 2003

Through these consultations, the Task Force is seeking to gauge support for and interest in a paralegal certification program and to determine if the proposed certification standards are appropriate, too high or too low.

Before any certification proposal could proceed, it would require the approval of the Benchers. As well, 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.

Although not part of the current proposal, the Task Force is exploring the issue of whether paralegals or certified paralegals, working under lawyer supervision, could perform functions in addition to those permitted under Chapter 12 of the Professional Conduct Handbook. For more on the possible areas for expansion, see Questions 21 and 22 in Appendix B (a reference copy of the paralegal survey).

Any expansion of paralegal functions would require a review of applicable legislation and further consultation, not only with paralegals and lawyers, but with the courts and administrative tribunals.

BC lawyers are invited to comment on the paralegal certification proposal by writing 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
Email: cwiseman@lsbc.org 
Fax: 604 443-5770


APPENDIX A

Summary of General Certification Scheme

 

Graduates of Canadian law schools and paralegal programs that meet criteria

Graduates of paralegal programs that do not meet criteria

Graduates of paralegal programs from common law jurisdictions

Graduates with LL.B from non-Canadian law jurisdictions

Diploma/certificate/ degree

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Paralegal work experience in BC

1 yr within preceding 5 yrs

1 yr within preceding 5 yrs

1 yr within preceding 5 yrs

1 yr within preceding 5 yrs

Challenge exam

No

Yes

Yes

Alternative to above: Challenge exam and one year legal/paralegal experience outside BC

Summary of Grandfathering Certification Scheme

 

Graduates of Vancouver Community College or Selkirk College legal assistant programs

Applicants with work experience, including paralegal work experience only

Diploma/certificate

Yes

No

Paralegal work experience in BC

3 yrs within preceding 5 yrs

10 yrs legal work experience (including 5 as paralegal) within preceding 15 yrs

Challenge exam

No

No

 


APPENDIX B

Survey on proposed paralegal certification

1. How many years in total have you been employed as a paralegal in British Columbia? ___. 

2. How many of the past five years have you been employed as a paralegal in BC? ___

3. If you worked as a paralegal in any of the following areas of law over the past year, please indicate the percentage of time you spent in each area (these areas should total 100%). If you did not work as a paralegal in the past year, please skip to Question 4.

  __% Administrative __% Wills/Estates __% Litigation
  __% Corporate __% Family __% Maritime
  __% Real Estate __% Intellectual Property __% Criminal
  __% Labour __% Taxation  
  __% Securities __% Other (specify) __________

4. What is the highest level of education you have completed? (Choose one):

  [ ] High School [ ] College __ yrs  
  [ ] Undergraduate degree [ ] Law Degree  
  [ ] Masters Degree+ [ ] Other (specify) __________

5. Are you a graduate of any of the following? (Choose one or more). If not, please skip to Question 6.

  [ ] Capilano College Legal Assistant Program - diploma program
  [ ] Capilano College Legal Assistant Program - certificate program
  [ ] Vancouver Community College or Selkirk College Legal Assistant program
  [ ] Other paralegal program (specify institution: _____________)
  [ ] A Canadian law school (specify degree _____)
  [ ] A foreign law school (specify country __________ and degree _________).

6. Will you apply to become a Certified Paralegal?  [ ] Yes    [ ] No

  If no, why not? _________________________________________________
  ______________________________________________________________

7. If you do not meet either the General or the Grandparenting requirements for certification (see Proposal for details), would you be willing to write a challenge exam to become a Certified Paralegal?

  [ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Not applicable (I meet the requirements for certification)
       
  Comment: ___________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________

8. Are you in favour of the title "Certified Paralegal"?    [ ] Yes    [ ] No

  If no, what title would you prefer?: __________________________________
   
  Comment: _____________________________________________________
  ______________________________________________________________

9. Are you in favour of requiring a Certified Paralegal to renew his or her certification each year?
[ ] Yes    [ ] No

  If no, why not? ________________________________________________
  _____________________________________________________________

10. How would you rate the Capilano College Diploma program curriculum as a benchmark for paralegal education in British Columbia?

  [ ] Too High [ ] Too Low [ ] Appropriate
  [ ] Don't know    
       
  Comment: ___________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________

11. How would you rate the Capilano College Certificate program curriculum as a benchmark for paralegal education in British Columbia?

  [ ] Too High [ ] Too Low [ ] Appropriate
  [ ] Don't know    
       
  Comment: ___________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________

12. Do you agree that a Certified Paralegal should be required to complete a minimum number of continuing legal education course hours each year?   [ ] Yes    [ ] No

  If yes, how many hours a year would be appropriate? ___ hours
   
  If no, why not? ________________________________________________
  _____________________________________________________________
  _____________________________________________________________

13. What qualifications should a person from a foreign jurisdiction have to apply to be a Certified Paralegal? (Choose one or more)

  [ ] An LL.B.
  [ ] A law degree other than an LL.B.
  [ ] Don't know
   
  Comment: ____________________________________________________
  ______________________________________________________________

14. How would you rate the standards for certification set out in the proposed General Certification scheme?

  [ ] Too High [ ] Too Low [ ] Appropriate [ ] Don't Know
         
  Comment: ___________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________

15. Are there paralegals with other background qualifications who should be eligible for certification under the General Certification Scheme?    [ ] Yes    [ ] No

  If yes, specify: ________________________________________________
  _____________________________________________________________

16. How would you rate the standards set out in the proposed Grandparenting Certification Scheme?

  [ ] Too High [ ] Too Low [ ] Appropriate [ ] Don't Know
         
  Comment: ___________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________

17. Are there paralegals with other background qualifications who should be eligible for certification through grandparenting?    [ ] Yes    [ ] No    [ ] Don't know

  If yes, specify: ________________________________________________
  _____________________________________________________________
  _____________________________________________________________

18. How would you rate a five-year window of opportunity during which a paralegal may apply for certification through grandparenting?

  [ ] Too Long [ ] Too Short [ ] Appropriate [ ] Don't Know
         
  Comment: ___________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________
  ____________________________________________________________

19. Should Certified Paralegals be entitled to perform legal functions in addition to those now permitted under Chapter 12 of the Professional Conduct Handbook?

  [ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Don't know

20. Should paralegals who are not certified be entitled to perform legal functions in addition to those now permitted under Chapter 12 of the Professional Conduct Handbook?

  [ ] Yes [ ] No [ ] Don't know

21. What additional functions (if any) should a Certified Paralegal supervised by a lawyer be permitted to perform? (Choose as many as apply)

  [ ] Appearing as a representative before administrative tribunals
  [ ]  Appearing as a representative in small claims court
  [ ]  Appearing as a representative in traffic court where the client cannot lose a licence or be fined over $2,000
  [ ] Appearing as a representative on non-contentious matters in provincial court
  [ ] Appearing as a representative on Supreme Court Registrar's hearings
  [ ] Appearing as a representative on non-contentious Supreme Court Chambers matters
  [ ] Acting as a Commissioner for Oaths / Land Title Officer
  [ ] All services in connection with simple conveyances including meeting with clients to take instructions and execute documents
  [ ] All services in connection with documents relating to property that may be registered or recorded in a registry or other public office and meeting with clients to take instructions and execute documents
  [ ] All services in connection with basic wills, including meeting with clients to take instructions and sign wills
  [ ] Other: Specify _________________________________

22. What additional functions (if any) should paralegals who are not certified but who are supervised by a lawyer be permitted to perform? (Choose as many as apply)

  [ ] Appearing as a representative before administrative tribunals
  [ ] Appearing as a representative in small claims court
  [ ] Appearing as a representative in traffic court where the client cannot lose a licence or be fined over $2,000
  [ ] Appearing as a representative on non-contentious matters in provincial court
  [ ] Appearing as a representative on Supreme Court Registrar's hearings
  [ ] Appearing as a representative on non-contentious Supreme Court Chambers matters
  [ ] Acting as a Commissioner for Oaths / Land Title Officer
  [ ] All services in connection with simple conveyances including meeting with clients to take instructions and execute documents
  [ ] All services in connection with documents relating to property that may be registered or recorded in a registry or other public office and meeting with clients to take instructions and execute documents
  [ ] All services in connection with basic wills, including meeting with clients to take instructions and sign wills
  [ ] Other: Specify _________________________________

23. Any additional comments?

  ______________________________________________________________
  ______________________________________________________________
  ______________________________________________________________
  ______________________________________________________________