You’re interested in law, but the idea of going to law school for years doesn’t appeal to you. Or maybe you just don’t want to be a lawyer. Ontario offers an alternative in the form of a paralegal licence. This licence lets you practice independently without direct supervision from a lawyer, which is usually the rule for paralegals. If this appeals to you, it’s worth going over the education, testing, character, and licencing requirements for the certification to start your own 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 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 while you’re 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.
Becoming a paralegal in Ontario means you have to pass through a training course first. To qualify for the licence, you need to take a paralegal education program that’s 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 is ideal for people who want to make a career change quickly. You can also get a graduate paralegal certificate, which is for people who already have a 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.
Getting a paralegal licence regardless of your education program type requires you to take professional responsibility and ethics courses. You also need at least 120 hours of field placement.
Accreditation program done, you can apply to take the licencing exam. This is an open-book, multiple-choice exam that’s divided into a morning and afternoon session with each part lasting 3.5 hours. The test’s roughly 240 questions cover substantive and procedural law concepts, professional responsibility, ethics, and practice management. Test authorities give you study materials after you register for the exam. It’s okay to make notes in these study materials and bring them with you on test day.
After you finish, your paper is graded by a machine. Results come in six to eight weeks via your online account. The results only show if you pass or fail, so you don’t find out your actual score. If you don’t pass, you get an exam profile, which shows you how you did in different categories of the test. This can be helpful for studying if you plan to retake the test.
Good Character Requirement
To apply for your 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, such as convictions of any offences, judgments, disobeying court orders, fraud, being denied a licence based on character, removal from a professional organization, disciplinary actions, or any other moral turpitude issues.
The reason for this scrutiny is to protect the public and ensure a high ethical standard for paralegals. You’re required 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 you had something negative happen 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 something in your past is irrelevant because you are now of good character.
After meeting all of the requirements, you can finally apply for your licence. You have to complete the Petition for the Paralegal P1 Licence and Certificate of Fitness form and Affidavit for Taking the Oath form. You also have to pay the fee for the licence. You receive your licence approximately two weeks after everything is processed. Before you start practicing under your P1 licence, you need to obtain the required insurance coverage.
Paralegals have several employment options once they’re licenced. You can start your own practice, but you can also work for other companies. Many law firms hire paralegals to handle the caseload. 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.
Paralegal licencing 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 and get a lot more satisfaction out of your career.