The Law Society of Ontario has the statutory duties to facilitate access to justice for all of the people of Ontario and to act in the interest of the public.
In 2016, after years of pressure from paralegals and family court litigants, the attorney general and the Law Society appointed Justice Annemarie E. Bonkalo to study unmet legal needs in family court. Bonkalo found that the majority (57%) of family court litigants, through no fault of their own, other than not being able to afford a lawyer and being ineligible to qualify for legal aid, had to represent themselves in family court.
To increase the access to justice for litigants with family court matters, Bonkalo recommended that paralegals be allowed to provide some family court legal services.
The Law Society is responsible for the licensing and regulation of lawyers and paralegals in Ontario. Unlike most other provinces, in Ontario, paralegals have been representing clients independently of lawyers in small claims court, at the landlord and tenant board, traffic court, and other venues for decades. Paralegals are often more affordable and have more expertise than lawyers in the venues in which they specialize.
In December 2017, the Law Society’s board of directors, which consists of 40 lawyers, five paralegals and eight lay people, voted to have its committee recommend the education, licensing process, and limitations on what services a family law paralegal should be able to provide to the public.
In February 2022, a plan for family law paralegal training and services was submitted to the Law Society’s board of directors to be voted on. The result: The Law Society, bowing to pressure from family law lawyers and the judiciary, removed the plan from the agenda and cited that more study was needed. Obviously, four years of study was not enough!
MOTION ON AGM AGENDA?
In April 2022, a group of paralegals attempted to get a motion added to the agenda of the upcoming annual general meeting (AGM) of the Law Society in May 2022. The motion stated that the Law Society should approach the attorney general of Ontario to have the provincial government take over the regulation of lawyers and paralegals as the Law Society has failed in its statutory duty to act in the public interest and to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.
In response, the Law Society’s president, referred to as the treasurer, wrote that the motion would not be heard at the upcoming AGM as it would upset their board of directors’ ability to run the affairs of the society.
Unlike the government of Ontario which is accountable to the public at each election, the Law Society is not publicly accountable to anyone.
It is evident that by refusing to allow the paralegals’ motion to be added to the AGM agenda for its members to discuss whether the Law Society is properly facilitating access to justice, the Law Society is protecting the interests of its lawyer members and, in doing so, loses all credibility that it acts in the interest of Ontarians.
The Ontario government is responsible to address the unmet legal needs of Ontarians and it mandated the Law Society of Ontario to do the same. If the Law Society believes that it does not have to meet their mandate to facilitate access to justice for the public, maybe it should be dissolved.
— Marshall Yarmus us a Licensed Paralegal. He is the former Vice-president of both the Paralegal Society of Ontario and the Paralegal Society of Canada.