As reported by the Toronto Star, the territory war between paralegals and family lawyers is getting tenser as the two groups grapple over the province’s legal landscape. At issue is who is qualified – and who is not qualified – to represent thousands of divorcing Ontarians each year in family court.
Paralegals argue that they should be allowed to expand their powers and, alongside family lawyers, prepare family law documents, represent clients in family court, and draft uncontested divorces. It’s a change that Toronto paralegal Marshall Yarmus claims would help protect the livelihood of almost 3,000 regulated paralegals in the province — a livelihood that was and remains in peril since the province licensed and regulated the profession in 2007. Prior to that, many paralegals worked gainfully in family courts.
Fiercely opposing this view is the Family Lawyers Association of Ontario, which argues that paralegals are not trained to deal with the complexities of family court, and the question of protecting livelihoods is simply not the criteria upon which to resolve this issue. “When you’re dealing with women, children, property and support issues, these are not uncomplicated situations,” notes Mary Reilly, the Association’s treasurer.
Furthermore, Roy Thomas, the society’s director of communications points out that even prior to the 2007, paralegals were not allowed to appear in family court unless they had the court’s approval.
Currently the battleground for these two camps is the Law Society of Upper Canada, which was scheduled to hear a motion put forward by paralegal groups on May 5. However, on May 4 – one day before it was to be debated – the motion was withdrawn.
It’s unclear why the surprise withdrawal took place. But what is clear, is that this confrontation is not going to fade away quietly. For while it appears (at least on the surface) that family lawyers have won this skirmish, the war over who can – and who cannot – represent clients in family court is, no doubt, just getting started.
Divorce Magazine will stay on top of this issue and publish updates as they become available.
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