I was asked recently my thoughts on paralegals in Ontario and I will share those thoughts with you here. Until recently, I was lukewarm to the issue of using paralegals for court appointments and some transactional work. But many of my concerns have been addressed. For example, paralegals must now carry malpractice insurance coverage. There is an accreditation system in place. Etc., etc.
I can say that there are incompetent paralegals that I have dealt with in the past and I can say that I have dealt with paralegals who I have found to be just as competent as lawyers – in some cases more so. Similarly, I can say that I have dealt with very competent lawyers on the other side of matters and in some cases I have wondered about the other side’s competency.
In the end, it does not (and cannot) come down to an issue of lawyer vs. paralegal. Rather, the questions are: “Does he/she have enough experience?” “Am I comfortable with him/her representing me?” “Does he/she respond to my legal needs to my satisfaction?” “Does he/she seem to have a grasp on the facts and issues in my case or my transaction?” If all of those have been answered “yes”, then you can look at issues like how much are you going to be charged – because even if the person is going to work for free, if you answer “no” to any of those questions then you are probably wasting your time and money.
Most importantly, though, is to consider your level of communication. Did you get sufficient information at the outset to decide how to proceed. Do you understand the differences in share structures and options for an incorporation? Do you understand why you are taking a certain position in small claims court litigation? Then, on an ongoing basis, is your paralegal or lawyer keeping you “in the loop” and letting you know what is going on. If you have sufficient communication, then you should be fine. The problems tend to arise when communication break-downs occur. And this will happen whether it is a paralegal or a lawyer. However, you should also remember that communication requires two parties talking. It would be preferable if your paralegal or lawyer is constantly keeping you in the loop, but we’re all human and if we cannot get to things all the time, then it helps if you send an e-mail or give a phone call. The easiest way to bring your matter from #20 on the to-do list to #1 is to make a call and get your paralegal or lawyer on the phone and he/she will immediately tell you what is going on (or if he/she doesn’t, then you know you’ve got a problem).