In Ontario, Canada, paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, giving paralegals an independent status in this jurisdiction and are licensed and regulated the same way that lawyers are. The Province of Ontario, Canada, recently became the first jurisdiction in North America to provide for the licensing of independent paralegals. This change now allows paralegals to act as legal agents who have the ability to represent on many matters, including all Provincial Offences, work for Provincial Tribunals and Boards, as well as Summary Criminal Cases. They are not “law clerks” in the province of Ontario, Canada but rather are considered officers of the court, a formal part of the legal system.
In researching this, I found that paralegals can represent clients in the Ontario Small Claims Court, Landlord and Tenant Board, Worker’s Safety and Insurance Board and for Summary Criminal Cases. There is of course, a licensing procedure before a paralegal can represent a client. To read more about paralegal licensing and regulations, click here.
In California, paralegals can represent clients in Workers Compensation (California Bar Committee on Professional Responsibility formal opinion 1988-103) but only a law firm can allow its paralegals to represent clients at workers compensation hearings if there is supervision and the client consents to nonlawyer representation.
Part of the opinion states that a lawyer or law firm contemplating entering into such an arrangement should remember that an attorney stands in a fiduciary relationship with the client. (Krusesky v. Baugh (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 562, 567.) When acting as a fiduciary, the law imposes upon a member the strictest duty of prudent conduct as well as an obligation to perform his or her duties to the best of the attorney’s ability. (Clark v. State Bar (1952) 39 Cal.2d 161, 167; and cf. Bus. & Prof. Code, sec. 6067; Rule of Professional Conduct 6-101(A).) However, an attorney does not have to bear the entire burden of attending to every detail of the practice, but may be justified in relying to some extent on non-attorney employees. (Moore v. State Bar (1964) 62 Cal.2d 74, 80; Vaughn v. State Bar (1972) 6 Cal.3d 847, 857.)
The attorney who delegates responsibilities to his or her employees must keep in mind that he or she, as the attorney, has the duty to adequately supervise the employee. In fact, the attorney will be subject to discipline if the lawyer fails to adequately supervise the employee. (Chefsky v. State Bar (1984) 36 Cal.3d 116, 123; Palomo v. State Bar (1984) 36 Cal.3d 785, 795; Gassman v. State Bar (1976) 18 Cal.3d 125.)
Paralegals may represent clients before the Labor Board (California Labor Code, sections 5501, 5700) California Labor Code section 5501 states that nonlawyer representation is allowed but the appeals board must be notified in writing that the representative is not an attorney licensed by the State Bar of California.
Paralegals can also represent clients before California Unemployment Appeals Board (California Unemployment Insurance Code § 1957 (1956) The codes states that a nonlawyer may represent any individual claiming benefits in any proceedings before the Appeals Board. No agent or counsel shall charge or receive for such services more than an amount approved by the appeals board. Violations for this provision shall be fined no less than $50 and no more than $1,000 or be imprisoned not more than six months or both.
As a paralegal looking to branch out, I am considering the options above. I would love to hear from other paralegals, in California and elsewhere, on the types of representations they have done and why they loved it or would never do again. I would also love to hear from paralegals who are also considering branching out into representing clients in some way.
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