Debate heats up on paralegals in family law

May 16, 2017
Article Source
Law Times

The contentious debate as to whether paralegals should be allowed to practise in some aspects of family law is simmering while the Law Society of Upper Canada figures out a way forward on the issue.

The issue has been top of mind for family lawyers as a recent report by Justice Annemarie Bonkalo recommended allowing paralegals to practise in the area to help alleviate access to justice problems. The proposal is a controversial one for lawyers who see their work as being too complex for paralegals, and that adding them into the marketplace would do little to help with the obstacles in the way of getting more people legal representation.

"I see the recommendations from Justice Bonkalo's report being more like a very temporary Band-Aid solution rather than actually addressing the underlying problems,” says lawyer Michael Lesage.

The report contended that paralegals should be allowed to represent clients in matters concerning custody, access, simple child support cases, restraining orders, enforcement and joint divorces without property.

Proponents of the idea have said that allowing paralegals to offer services in some aspects of family law could help fill some gaps in the family justice system. More than 57 per cent of Ontarians who engaged with the family court system in 2014-15 were self-represented, according to government statistics.

Dozens of lawyers and paralegals packed into the law society's annual general meeting on May 10 to voice their position on a motion that concerned the issue.

The motion, which was introduced by Lesage, called on the law society to release all the findings of any reports relevant to its review of whether the scope of family law should be broadened to allow paralegals to practise in the area and to give lawyer members an opportunity to comment on them.

Lesage says he would like to see the law society take its time to study the issue in-depth before considering any possible changes to the scope of family law and that members should be consulted at every step of the way. 

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