Colin McConnell/Toronto Star
When property manager Barbara Kraus has a landlord and tenant problem at one of the 1,500 units under her management in the GTA, instead of calling a lawyer, she relies on paralegal Cathy Corsetti.
While a lawyer might charge $200 an hour to represent Kraus at landlord tenant hearings or in small claims court, Corsetti Paralegal Associates typically charges a flat daily fee between $200 and $550.
When John Turnbull, the owner of a Toronto diaper delivery service, was charged with careless driving, he turned to Brian Lawrie and POINTTS, the traffic ticket specialists. Instead of hiring a lawyer, Turnbull paid $678 to Lawrie’s firm to represent him.
Turnbull says it was a small price to pay because, had he been found guilty, he would have been unable to get insurance and could have lost his Happy Nappy Diaper Service business. Although Turnbull lost control of his van and hit a parked car, he was found not guilty because POINTTS was able to show the court that the accident happened due to mechanical failure.
“POINTTS prepared my case, went to court with me and helped me navigate through the whole process,” says Turnbull.
Related: How to find a lawyer
These cases show why paralegals are gaining popularity and there are more than 4,000 licensed paralegals in Ontario. Paralegals charge less than lawyers and have developed specialized expertise acting for clients before the courts and tribunals where they are allowed to practice.
Paralegals are licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada — the same group that regulates lawyers. To be licensed, they must pass a 3.5-hour qualifying exam which tests the knowledge, skills and judgment required for practice. They must also be insured against malpractice.
As their popularity has grown, so has the need for formal training. Community colleges and private colleges in over 20 Ontario locations offer approved two-year programs.
Kraus’s Kroma Management Ltd. refers about five cases a month to Corsetti’s firm. They save her time, money and she also gets good advice.
“The expertise they bring to the table is invaluable,” Kraus says.
Paralegals can help you in four major ways:
• in Small Claims Court for civil suits up to $25,000 for such things as wrongful dismissal, unpaid client invoices;
• In provincial court if you have been charged with offences under the Highway Traffic including speeding or careless driving, or municipal bylaw charges for such things as garbage, noise and animal care);
• In provincial court or for other offences, where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months’ imprisonment including causing a disturbance, making harassing telephone calls;
• before tribunals including the Landlord and Tenant Board for evictions for non-payment of rent and the Immigration and Refugee Board for immigration and refugee matters.
When former Toronto police constable Lawrie started POINTTS in 1984, it was Canada’s first traffic ticket specialist. His company has since successfully defended more than 1,000,000 traffic tickets and has grown from a one-man operation to 24 offices in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. His staff includes former police officers and community college graduates.
Lawrie had a tough time getting the legal profession to accept him and the Law Society took him to court claiming he was unlawfully practising as a lawyer. It took three years and two appeals to confirm that he is allowed to represent clients as an agent (and not a lawyer) in traffic court.
Why do clients hire POINTTS instead of a lawyer?
Like Corsetti, Lawrie says his paralegals can deliver specialized expertise at affordable prices. “Our standard fee for defending a ticket for running a stop sign is $350 and that’s from start to finish,” he says. “Because paralegals appear in traffic court every day, they understand the rules of evidence and how the courts work.”
So how do you find a licensed paralegal?
First of all, ask friends or family who have worked with paralegals in the past and can offer recommendations.
The Law Society also has an online Lawyers and Paralegal Directory that lists all licensed lawyers and paralegals in Ontario. The directory is searchable by name, city or postal code. If the paralegal has a discipline history, practice restrictions or if there is a trusteeship, this will be specified in the directory listing.
Another useful resource is the Law Society’s Referral Service that will give you the name of a lawyer or paralegal in your area willing to provide a free consultation of up to 30 minutes to help you determine your rights and options.
Affiliation with the Law Society has gone a long way to boost the professional standing of paralegals and enhance the public’s access to justice within their permitted scope of practice. But there are still cases where paralegals may have to take “a back seat” to lawyers doing the same work.
The Advocate Daily recently reported on a decision by a Newmarket Justice of the Peace that paralegal Marian Lippa could not sit in front with the lawyers in her courtroom. She also ruled that lawyers setting court dates were entitled to have their matters dealt with first, even if paralegals arrive and sign in earlier. Lippa has applied to the Superior Court of Justice to overturn this ruling and the case has been adjourned to November 19th.