A Paralegal is in many ways a Lawyer’s assistant, but that should never diminish the importance of their job or the level of preparation they must have in order to fulfill their role. They work in any specialized Law firm by providing assistance in not only legal activities, but also all sorts of administrative tasks carried out in an office setting.
Paralegals are often tasked with preparing legal documents, researching precedents for specific cases, conducting research to support a legal procedure, or even formulating a defense or prosecution plan for court cases. Yet, in most provinces, Canadian Paralegals are not licensed Lawyers and, therefore, cannot practice law or represent clients in courts or any legal procedures.
Only in Ontario are Paralegals fully permitted to practice law, yet they do have some limitations; they may represent clients accused of minor provincial offences, labour law issues, and small claims. They may also represent clients in certain criminal matters. However, Paralegals may not represent clients involved in federal crimes, family courts, or inheritances; all of which are reserved to fully licensed Lawyers.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Paralegals are required to complete.
- Assisting Lawyers in tasks involved in legal and administrative activities:
- Gathering and analyzing important data (e.g. declarations, precedents, and applicable laws) for a case;
- preparing affidavits and other legal documents for Lawyers and clients;
- drafting contracts, wills, and real estate closing statements;
- maintaining all documents organized in electronic and paper filing systems;
- maintaining the legal library of the office updated; and
- directing and coordinating the activities of interns.
- Preparing supporting material for trials and courts:
- Investigating facts and precedents that are relevant to cases;
- documenting and drafting reports based on evidence and past cases analyses in order to provide Lawyers with the necessary information for a case;
- writing court briefs, pleadings, and appeals;
- filing and submitting legal documents when necessary;
- meeting with clients and Lawyers to discuss the details of a case;
- calling upon witnesses to testify in hearings; and
- transcribing declarations and testimonies that may be relevant.
- Representing clients in legal matters when permitted by provincial law:
- Providing legal advice and representation to clients in matters covered by their scope of practice.
- Staying updated with the latest passing bills, legislations, and laws.
- Assisting Lawyers in legal and administrative tasks.
- Preparing affidavits, declarations, and other legal documents.
- Directing and coordinating office activities.
- Preparing supporting materials for cases and trials.
- Writing court briefs, defense or prosecution strategies, and calling on witnesses.
- Filing and submitting legal documents.
- Meeting with clients and Lawyers to discuss details of cases and trials.
- Representing clients in legal matters when allowed by provincial regulations.
The average Paralegal salary is $61,314 per year or $31 per hour. This is around 1.9 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $43,000 while most experienced workers make up to $86,000. These results are based on 154 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Excellent communication skills:
- Being capable of documenting and presenting information in an orderly manner to their supervising Lawyer;
- being precise and specific when drafting legal documents (e.g. pleadings, discoveries, research memorandums, correspondence, and other documents);
- having excellent interviewing skills; and
- being able to create a comfortable environment to facilitate good professional relationships between Lawyers, clients, and themselves.
- Outstanding problem-solving, analytical, research, and organizational skills:
- Being able to work on various cases at the same time;
- being capable of working under pressure and with established deadlines;
- managing and understanding vast amounts of information while extracting important data; and
- being able to research and process large amounts of information.
- High levels of integrity, morality, honesty, and responsibility:
- Handling sensitive or confidential information;
- remaining unbiased, retaining a cold, leveled head during trials; and
- following strict ethical guidelines and client confidentiality rules.
- Good computer skills:
- Using computer programs to analyze evidence; and
- writing legal documents using word processors and other computerized applications.
Aside from the skills listed above, Paralegals are expected to be highly organized, capable of interacting professionally with clients, and dealing with all administrative duties. Paralegals are often tasked with carrying out and supervising basic office activities such as filing documents, keeping records of clients and cases, and interviewing witnesses and other relevant people that may offer testimony in a trial.
Given that the functions of Paralegals and Lawyers are in many ways quite similar, so are the requirements to become one. In order to become a Paralegal candidates must first possess at least a bachelor’s degree in Law. Extensive knowledge of the legal principles, procedures, systems, and their intricacies are essential to any Paralegal; therefore, the education aspect is almost always mandatory. Experience is also vital, as many candidates will undertake trainee or internship programs prior to graduating in order to get a firsthand look of the professional environment they’re about to enter. Some employers may require 2 to 3 years of previous experience before hiring new aspirants.
In most parts of Canada, Paralegal activity is largely unregulated, meaning that the qualifications and licences necessary for obtaining a job are completely up to the employer. In Ontario, however, Paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Most Paralegals work the standard 9 to 5 workday. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for them to spend extra hours at the office working on a specific case. Working from home is a rarity for Paralegals as very few law firms would allow sensitive information about cases and clients to leave their premises.