Paralegals in Ontario enjoy a broader scope of practice than their peers in other provinces.
They are allowed to represent clients in small claims court and before various administrative tribunals—and often set up private practices that specialize in certain areas of the law (such as landlord-tenant disputes, immigration services, and disability appeals).
In order to regulate the expanding paralegal profession, and maintain high standards of professional practice, the Law Society of Upper Canada requires all would-be paralegals to complete a rigorous licensing process.
What exactly does this process entail? Here are 5 facts students should know about preparing for and successfully earning a paralegal license.
1. To qualify, you need a paralegal diploma from an accredited program
In order to challenge the paralegal licensing exam, candidates must earn a paralegal diploma or certificate from a program accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada. When selecting training, be sure to check the college website for confirmation of accreditation, or inquire about the program's status through admissions.
Before you can attempt the exam, you must complete what the Law Society calls an "application for registration into the licensing process." This process includes:
- filling out an application form
- paying a non-refundable fee (at least 30 days before exam day)
- providing an official transcript from an accredited paralegal program
- proof of identity
2. Length and format of the paralegal licensing exam
Ontario's paralegal exam is 7 hours (420 minutes) in length, and is divided into two sessions of 3.5 hours each—one in the morning, and another in the afternoon.
There are several important points to note about the exam:
- it consists entirely of multiple choice questions (candidates must choose the best answer from four possible options)
- topics covered include Canadian Law – Jurisdiction and Fundamentals; Administrative Law; Civil Litigation; Criminal and Quasi-criminal Law; Professional Responsibility, Ethics and Practice Management
- candidates are allowed to bring study materials, notes, and text books into the exam setting (it's an "open book" format)
- the exam will include some experimental questions, which are for research purposes, and will NOT be scored (these are mixed in with all the other questions, and not highlighted in any way)
- the final grade is expressed as a "pass" or "fail"
- results are sent to your online account 6-8 weeks after the exam
- if the result is a "fail", you will be provided with a Licensing Examination Profile which breaks down your result, and reveals where more study is needed
3. You can write the paralegal licensing exam a maximum of THREE times
Candidates are allowed to attempt the licensing exam a maximum of three times, within a three year period. However, under special circumstances, you can petition to write the exam a fourth time. Candidates must submit a request to the Executive Director, Professional Development and Competence, proving that "extraordinary circumstances" warrant a fourth exam attempt.
4. You must officially defer if you can't show up on exam day
Candidates cannot simply not show up to their booked licensing exam. You must officially request to defer writing the exam, at least 5 days before the exam date. If you do not follow this procedure, your registration fee will not be refunded.
In cases where the exam is missed due to a medical emergency, candidates must submit a Medical Absence Form within 10 business days after the exam sitting (and once approved, a refund will be granted).
5. Candidates must prove "good character" in order to become licensed paralegals
Passing the paralegal exam is not the final step to becoming licensed. An important component of the process is the attestation of good character. The "good character" requirement is part of the Law Society's pledge to protect the public, maintain high ethical standards, and encourage public confidence in the legal profession.
In order to prove their good character, each candidate must disclose:
- any past criminal convictions
- whether they have been subject to a penalty imposed by a court, administrative tribunal or regulatory body
- any other circumstances or issues that may compromise the quality of their character
If there are any concerns, the Law Society will investigate, and may hold a hearing to determine whether the candidate can proceed with the licensing process. The purpose is to establish good character in the present, so it's important to note that a past criminal conviction does not necessarily bar a candidate from earning a paralegal license.
See a list of upcoming paralegal licensing exam dates in Toronto right here.
Take a look at Herzing College's accredited Paralegal Diploma Training, delivered at the Toronto campus. The program takes 12 months to complete and includes a 4-week internship.