If you have an interest in law but don’t relish years of law school or want to become a lawyer, Ontario offers an alternative in the form of a paralegal licence. While paralegals typically must work under the direct supervision of a lawyer, those with licence can practice independently. If this appeals to you, it just might pay to go over the education, testing, character, and licencing requirements for the certification to start your own paralegal practice.
Benefits of the Paralegal Licence
Why should you consider becoming a paralegal? Among other privileges, this certification gives you the authority to represent people in certain circumstances without having to report directly to a lawyer. That independence gives you more freedom in the cases you take and how you handle them. Since you don’t need an attorney’s supervision, you also have the freedom to run your own business. You make the rules, set your hours, and reap all the benefits of working hard to build your solo business.
Paralegal work can also be rewarding. Clients often come to paralegals because they’re generally a lot more affordable than lawyers. As an independent paralegal, you get the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping someone with a legal situation when they might not otherwise be able to afford it. You can also use that lower rate to your advantage when marketing to new clients, which can bring in extra business. Some people also choose paralegals over lawyers to get a more personalized experience. Unlike busy lawyers, paralegals can really get to know their clients and build rapport with the extra time they have for them.
Education Requirements for A Paralegal Licence
To become a paralegal in Ontario, you must first pass a training course. To qualify for the licence, you need to take a paralegal education program accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada. The three types of programs include:
- Paralegal certificate: This one-year program focuses just on paralegal coursework and works well for people who want to make a career change quickly. You can also get a graduate paralegal certificate if you already have a paralegal diploma or degree.
- Paralegal diploma: The diploma option also focuses primarily on paralegal information without general education courses. It takes about two years to complete.
- Paralegal degree: If you want a four-year degree, this option may work for you. The coursework includes both paralegal and general education classes.
Regardless of your education program type, getting a paralegal licence requires you to take professional responsibility and ethics courses. You also need at least 120 hours of field placement.
Paralegal Licencing Exam
When you finish your paralegal accreditation program, you can apply to take the licencing exam. This is an open-book, multiple-choice exam divided into morning and afternoon sessions, with each part lasting 3.5 hours. The test has roughly 240 questions that cover substantive and procedural law concepts, professional responsibility, ethics, and practice management. Test authorities give you study materials after you register for the exam, and you can make notes in these materials and bring them with you on test day.
After you finish, a machine grades your test and you get your results in six to eight weeks via your online account. The results only show if you pass or fail, not your actual score. If you don’t pass, you get an exam profile that shows you how you did in various categories of the test. This can be helpful for studying if you plan to retake the test later.
Good Character Requirement
To apply for your paralegal licence, you need to meet a good character requirement. Licencing authorities may want you to prove your good character with information and supporting documents. The Society looks for things that go against good character. These can include:
- Convictions of any offences
- Disobedience to court orders
- Denial of a licence based on character
- Removal from a professional organization
- Disciplinary actions
- Moral turpitude issues
This scrutiny helps protect the public and ensures a high ethical standard for paralegals. You have a requirement to disclose anything that could go against the good character expectation. The Law Society investigates anything reported to them and may hold a hearing to decide whether you’re of good character. It’s important to note that just because something negative happened in your past doesn’t mean you’re disqualified from becoming a paralegal. If your case goes to a hearing, the purpose is to decide if you’re currently of good character. That means the panel may decide that past events prove irrelevant because you’re now of good character.
Getting Your Paralegal Licence
After meeting all the requirements, you can finally apply for your paralegal licence. You have to complete the Petition for the Paralegal P1 Licence, the Certificate of Fitness form, and the Affidavit for Taking the Oath form. You also have to pay the fee for the licence, and you receive it approximately two weeks after completion of processing. Keep in mind that before you start practicing under your P1 licence, you need to obtain the required insurance coverage.
Paralegal Employment Prospects
Once you obtain your paralegal licence, you have several employment options. You can start your own practice, but you can also work for other companies. Many law firms hire paralegals to handle their caseloads. You might also find a position with a government office or in the legal department of a large corporation. Others choose to work in legal aid clinics. Thinking about what type of work you want to handle helps you narrow down your employment prospects.
A paralegal licence gives you a chance to get into the law field without becoming an attorney. You can offer legal services for certain circumstances without a lawyer’s supervision, which can lead to a very satisfying career. If you choose to open your own practice, consider using QuickBooks Self-Employed to handle your finances. This app helps freelancers, contractors, and sole proprietors track and manage their businesses on the go. Download the app today for an easy way to track your expenses and income.