Difference between Lawyers, Paralegals, and Consultants
“The most advanced justice system in the world is a failure if it does not provide justice to the people it is meant to serve. Access to justice is therefore critical”.
The above quote from Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin, the Chief Justice of Canada vividly describes the importance of ensuring the justice system is accessible to those who need it most. Access to justice is underscored by having legal representatives with the necessary qualifications and expertise. In Ontario, there are three groups of professionals that can represent clients and assist with their legal problems, namely:
- lawyers who are licenced and regulated by The Law Society of Upper Canada;
- paralegals who are also licenced and regulated by The Law Society of Upper Canada; and
- immigration consultants, in the field of immigration law, who are licenced by the ICCRC.
Although each type of legal practitioner can assist clients with various matters, there are certain limits of the scope of practice of paralegals and/or immigration consultants.
It is, therefore, very important to know what each type of legal practitioner can and cannot do so you, as the client, can make an informed decision when it comes to hiring someone to assist you with your legal issues.
Training that each of the authorized representatives must complete
Lawyers who obtain a license to practice law in the province of Ontario have the following qualifications:
- They hold an undergraduate degree;
- They have specific legal training:
- completed at least 3 years of legal education from an approved Canadian Law School; or
- they have received confirmation of foreign qualification from the National Committee on Accreditation (NAC);
- They have successfully completed the licensing process which includes:
- Practical experience:
- Articling Program- 10 months of working as a lawyer-in-training, known as an articling student, under the direct supervision of a lawyer; OR
- Law Practice Program- a four-month training course and a four-month work placement; and
- Successful completion of the licensing examinations – the Barrister Licensing Examination and the Solicitor Licensing Examination.
Paralegals who obtain a license to practice law in the province of Ontario have the following qualifications:
- They have completed an accredited Paralegal program at an Ontario College (1 to 2-year program);
- Successfully completed 120 hours of practical work experience under the direct supervision of a licensed lawyer or paralegal; and
- Successfully completed the Paralegal Licensing Exam.
Immigration consultants who obtain a license to provide immigration services in the province of Ontario have met the following qualifications:
- They have completed an accredited training program (which ranges from 6 to 9 months and can be taken entirely online);
- They have passed a licensing examination set by the ICCRC; and
- They have passed a basic English proficiency tests.
What Each Legal Practitioner Can do for you:
While lawyers can technically practice in any given area of law, most lawyers will tend to focus their practice on specific areas only. Although by no means an exhaustive list, lawyers in good standing with their respective Law Society can do the following:
- Provide legal advice in the areas of law they practice;
- Represent clients before all levels of courts and administrative tribunals;
- Draft legal documents;
- Negotiate settlements in legal disputes; and
- In the field of immigration law, lawyers are able to apply for immigration on behalf of a potential applicant who is either within or outside of Canada.
Paralegals are only able to assist individuals with legal problems that fall within certain areas of law and within certain levels of court or administrative tribunals. They can represent someone:
- in legal disputes in the Small Claims Court which has a limit of $25,000 in damages;
- in the Ontario Court of Justice for matters that fall under the Provincial Offences Act such as traffic violations;
- in criminal law only on summary conviction offences where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months’ imprisonment and theft under $5000; and
- appear before administrative tribunals such as the Immigration and Refugee Board and the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.
A person with a paralegal licence is authorized to do the following while representing a client in any of the said proceedings:
- give legal advice concerning legal interests, rights or responsibilities with respect to a proceeding or the subject matter of a proceeding, as set out above;
- draft or assist in drafting documents for use in a proceeding;
- negotiate on behalf of a person who is a party to a proceeding; and
- in the field of immigration law, a paralegal can only deal with cases before the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB). They cannot, otherwise, apply for immigration on behalf of potential applicants.
Immigration consultants are authorized to assist prospective immigration applicants with the preparation and filing of documents before the Immigration and Refugee Board, Immigration Appeal Board, Refugee Protection Division, and the Refugee Appeal Division only.
Make Sure to Verify the Designation of the Legal Representative You Want to Hire:
The following websites will provide guidance to you when you are trying to determine what qualifications or designations the legal representative you want to hire has. An individual offering to assist with your legal needs must be listed in one of these directories to be authorized to provide the services outlined above:
|Group of authorized representative
|Authorized Jurisdiction to Provide Immigration Advice
|Online Membership List