A “designated paralegal” is a paralegal who can perform additional duties under a lawyer’s supervision:
give legal advice to clients;
appear before tribunals, as permitted, or at family law mediations.
The Law Society encourages lawyers to make use of designated paralegals to provide lower cost, competently delivered legal services to clients who might otherwise not be able to afford the services of the lawyer.
The Law Society does not directly credential or regulate designated paralegals. Instead, the Law Society protects the public through the regulation of the supervising lawyer, who is responsible for the conduct of the designated paralegal. The title “designated paralegal” does not affix to the paralegal as a right. The title does not transfer with the paralegal from job to job or from supervising lawyer to supervising lawyer. Designation is an active process by the supervising lawyer.
Even if a lawyer has a designated paralegal, the role requires consideration on a case-by-case basis as to whether a particular matter is suitable to delegate to the designated paralegal.
What lawyers should know about designated paralegals
It is the role and responsibility of lawyers to supervise paralegals, including designated paralegals. They must decide whether a paralegal has the skills, training and good character to perform the enhanced functions allowed for designated paralegals. Ultimately, lawyers are professionally and legally responsible for all work delegated to paralegals. Lawyers are also accountable to the Law Society in the event of a complaint or insurance claim stemming from a designated paralegal’s work.
A lawyer may supervise up to two designated paralegals. A designated paralegal may have multiple supervising lawyers at a firm, each designating the paralegal to undertake specific types of work.
The following rules and guidelines govern paralegals and designated paralegals:
Law Society Rule 2-13
Guidelines for lawyers using designated paralegals
1. The lawyer must determine whether a paralegal is suitable to be a designated paralegal. The lawyer should document this process in the employee file. The designated paralegal must be an employee and not an independent contractor.
2. The lawyer must determine on a case-by-case basis if a matter is suitable for the designated paralegal to give legal advice directly to a client and/or appear before a tribunal, as permitted by the tribunal, or at a family law mediation. (Although the BC Code allows court appearances as permitted by the courts, the courts currently do not permit appearances; see Family law pilot project below.) Check with the tribunal or mediator before sending the designated paralegal to appear.
3. If a matter is suitable for the designated paralegal, the lawyer should provide that option to the client. If the client agrees to make use of the designated paralegal, the lawyer should document this choice and inform the client that the lawyer supervises the work and will continue to be available to the client, and that the retainer is between the lawyer and the client.
4. Active supervision of the designated paralegal’s work is required. The degree of oversight will depend on a range of factors, such as the experience of the lawyer and designated paralegal, the nature of the matter, and how long the two have worked together. Supervision may take place from a remote location, provided there is an effective means of actively supervising the designated paralegal.
5. If concerns arise about the ability of the designated paralegal to do the work, or if a mistake has occurred, the lawyer must determine whether to take over the file. If a matter occurs that needs to be reported to the Law Society (including the Lawyers Insurance Fund), the lawyer must report even though the designated paralegal was performing the work.
6. The lawyer is responsible for operating the trust fund and billing the client.
7. The areas of law in which a designated paralegal may assist a lawyer are not limited. The only limitation related to appearances in court and at a family law mediation (see rule 6.1-3.3(c)).
To test whether designated paralegals should be permitted to appear in court, a pilot project took place in select registries of the Supreme Court of BC and the Provincial Court through which designated paralegals were permitted to appear in certain family law matters. Details about the pilot project are archived here. The pilot project has finished.
The pilot project did not garner enough participation to allow the courts to determine whether it provided a benefit. At present, although the BC Code permits designated paralegals to appear in court as permitted by the court, the courts do not currently permit appearances. The courts have exclusive discretion to permit appearances by designated paralegals in the future.
Information about insurance coverage: My Insurance Policy: Questions and Answers
Paralegals – Part of the access to justice solution (Fall 2012 Benchers’ Bulletin)
Delivery of Legal Services Task Force Report (October 1, 2010)