Appendix E – Supervision of Paralegals

Key concepts

Lawyers who use paralegals need to be aware of several key concepts:

1.    The lawyer maintains ultimate responsibility for the supervision of the paralegal and oversight of the file;

2.    Although a paralegal may be given operational carriage of a file, the retainer remains one between the lawyer and the client and the lawyer continues to be bound by his or her professional, contractual and fiduciary obligations to the client;

3.    The Society will protect the public by regulating the lawyer who is responsible for supervising the paralegal in the event of misconduct or a breach of the Legal Profession Act or Law Society Rules committed by the paralegal;

4.    A lawyer must limit the number of persons that he or she supervises to ensure that there is sufficient time available for adequate supervision of each person.

5.    A paralegal must be identified as such in correspondence and documents he or she signs and in any appearance before a court of tribunal.

6.    A lawyer must not delegate any matter to a paralegal that the lawyer would not be competent to conduct himself or herself.

Best practices for supervising paralegals

1.  Supervision is a flexible concept that is assessed on a case-by-case basis with consideration of the relevant factors, which, depending on the circumstances, include the following:

(a)    Has the paralegal demonstrated a high degree of competence when assisting the lawyer with similar subject matter?

(b)    Does the paralegal have relevant work experience and or education relating to the matter being delegated?

(c)    How complex is the matter being delegated?

(d)    What is the risk of harm to the client with respect to the matter being delegated?

2.  A lawyer must actively mentor and monitor the paralegal. A lawyer should consider the following:

(a)    Train the paralegal as if he or she were training an articled student. A lawyer must be satisfied the paralegal is competent to engage in the work assigned;

(b)    Ensuring the paralegal understands the importance of confidentiality and privilege and the professional duties of lawyers. Consider having the paralegal sign an oath to discharge his or her duties in a professional and ethical manner; 

(c)    Gradually increasing the paralegal’s responsibilities;

(d)    A lawyer should engage in file triage and debriefing to ensure that matters delegated are appropriate for the paralegal and to monitor competence. This may include:

(i)    testing the paralegal’s ability to identify relevant issues, risks and opportunities for the client;

(ii)    engaging in periodic file review. File review should be a frequent practice until such time as the paralegal has demonstrated continued competence, and should remain a regular practice thereafter;

(iii)    ensuring the paralegal follows best practices regarding client communication and file management.

3.  Create a feedback mechanism for clients and encourage the client to keep the lawyer informed of the strengths and weaknesses of the paralegal’s work. If the client has any concerns, the client should alert the lawyer promptly.

4.  If a lawyer has any concerns that the paralegal has made a mistake, the lawyer must take carriage of the file and deal with the mistake.

5.  Discuss paralegal supervision with a Law Society practice advisor if you have any concerns.

Best practices for training paralegals

1.  Develop a formal plan for supervision and discuss it with the paralegal. Set goals and progress milestones.

2.  Review the guidelines for supervising articled students and adopt concepts that are appropriate to the scope of responsibility being entrusted to the paralegal.

3.  Facilitate continuing legal education for the paralegal.

4.  Ensure the paralegal reviews the relevant sections of the Professional Legal Training Course materials and other professional development resources and review key concepts with the paralegal to assess their comprehension level.

5.  Have their paralegals “junior” the lawyer on files and explain the thought process with respect to substantive and procedural matters as part of the paralegal’s training.

6.  Keep an open door policy and encourage the paralegal to discuss any concerns or red flags with the lawyer before taking further steps.

A checklist for assessing the competence of paralegals

1.  Does the paralegal have a legal education? If so, consider the following:

(a)    What is the reputation of the institution?

(b)    Review the paralegal’s transcript;

(c)    Review the courses that the paralegal took and consider reviewing the course outline for relevant subject matters to assess what would have been covered in the course, consider total number of credit hours, etc.

(d)    Ask the paralegal about the education experience.

2.  Does the paralegal have other post-secondary education that may provide useful skills? Consider the reputation of the institution and review the paralegal’s transcripts.

3.  What work experience does the paralegal have, with particular importance being placed on legal work experience?:

(a)    Preference/weight should be given to work experience with the supervising lawyer and/or firm;

(b)    If the experience is with another firm, consider contacting the prior supervising lawyer for an assessment;

(c)    Does the paralegal have experience in the relevant area of law?

(d)    What responsibilities has the paralegal undertaken in the past in dealing with legal matters?

4.  What personal qualities does the paralegal possess that make him or her well-suited to take on enhanced roles:

(a)    How responsible, trustworthy and mature is the paralegal?

(b)    Does the paralegal have good interpersonal and language skills?

(c)    Is the paralegal efficient and well organized?

(d)    Does the paralegal possess good interviewing and diagnostic skills?

(e)    Does the paralegal display a strong understanding of both the substantive and procedural law governing the matter to be delegated?

(f)    Does the paralegal strive for continuous self-improvement, rise to challenges, etc.?

Screening for family violence

1.  The Family Law Act, SBC 2011, c. 25 requires family dispute resolution professionals to screen for family violence. Lawyers who practise family law are strongly encouraged to take at least 14 hours of training in screening for family violence, and lawyers who are acting as family law mediators, arbitrators or parenting coordinators are required to take such training.

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2.  While designated paralegals do not fall within the definition of family dispute resolution professionals, lawyers who delegate to designated paralegals the ability to give legal advice in family law or represent clients in the permitted forums are strongly encouraged to ensure the designated paralegal has at least 14 hours of training in screening for family violence.

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3.  If a designated paralegal has reason to believe family violence may be present, it is essential the paralegal bring this to the supervising lawyer’s attention so the lawyer can turn his or her mind to the issue and the potential risks associated with it.  

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Designated paralegals giving legal advice

1.  As part of the process of supervising a designated paralegal, a lawyer should instruct the designated paralegal as to the key aspects of what giving sound legal advice involves.

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2.  Giving legal advice and independent legal advice involves consideration of process and of the content of the advice. As a matter of process the lawyer, or designated paralegal, must obtain the relevant factual information from the client. This requires the skill of focusing on necessary factual material, rather than an exhaustive and costly exploration of all potential facts no matter how tangential they may be. Once the lawyer, or designated paralegal, has the factual foundation, he or she advises the client of the legal rights, obligations and/or remedies that are suggested by the facts. Finally, the lawyer should make a recommendation as to the preferred course of conduct and explain in clear terms why the suggested course is preferred.

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3.  When a lawyer is training a designated paralegal it is essential to instruct the paralegal as to the proper process for ensuring the paralegal is imparting sound and cost effective legal advice to the lawyer’s client.

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