In 1985, former police officer Brian Lawrie was charged under the Law Society Act with unlawfully acting as a barrister and solicitor, because he offered a commercial service defending people charged with traffic violations. Lawrie defended the charge and won. The charge went to the Provincial Court in 1985, and Judge Kerr found that this activity was legal. In 1986, that decision was upheld by District Court Judge Moore.
Thus were paralegals in Ontario born.
Since then, until 2007, anyone could provide certain types of legal services in Ontario: Small Claims Court proceedings, Ontario Court of Justice proceedings under the Provincial Offences Act (i.e. traffic tickets, among others), summary conviction offences under the Criminal Code of Canada (generally speaking, less serious criminal matters), and matters before administrative tribunals - the Landlord Tenant Board (and its predecessors), the Human Rights Tribunal, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and others.
Fairly wide scope of activities, actually. And because there was no licensing requirement at all, you could be rather hit-and-miss in terms of having good representatives. I once read the transcript of a meeting about the plan to regulate paralegals, and it included an anecdote by a Judge who had a very professional-looking paralegal appear before him, with his name engraved on his briefcase followed by the letters "HSD". Same on his letterhead. So at the end of the proceeding, the Judge asked the paralegal "So what does HSD stand for?" The paralegal replied "Almost nobody ever asks me that." The Judge didn't accept the evasion, and the paralegal grinned and answered "High School Dropout".
Effective 2007, the Law Society Act was changed so that paralegals now need to be licensed.
There's a grandfathering provision allowing the licensing of paralegals who had already been acting as paralegals (mind you, the date for grandfather-type applications is long past), but the process isn't without it's casualties. Some lawyers who had been disbarred had resorted to practice as paralegals. They have found it ...difficult... to get a paralegal license. Other paralegals with certain types of disreputable pasts have also had their challenges.
Some paralegals haven't been licensed, and have continued practice nonetheless. The creates risks to the people they represent. Even aside from the unreliability and unregulated nature of the services provided, there will be issues if and when the Forum they're appearing before realizes that they aren't entitled to be there. The client's case could well be prejudiced, and at a minimum significantly delayed.
Note that there remain a few exemptions to the need for a license. You can always represent yourself, as an individual. A friend or relative "not in the business of providing legal services" who does it for no fee can assist with matters that a paralegal would be able to help you with. Members of the HRPA can perform their necessary functions, subject to restrictions. And there are others.
If you're going to a lawyer or paralegal, it's worth taking a minute to check the Law Society's Lawyer and Paralegal Directory to make sure that they're listed there.
This Blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.