Paralegal students at Herzing College Toronto participating in a mock trial
In our experience, paralegal training attracts a very specific kind of student. These people are analytical, hard-working, articulate, socially conscious, and driven to help others.
They have a strong sense of ethics, and are genuinely fascinated by how our legal system works.
We're talking about a special kind of person who believes in justice, and wants to make legal services more available and affordable to Ontario residents.
Because that's exactly what paralegals do. So, what should you know about this training and career path, before you take the leap and enroll in a program?
Here's a very solid grounding in what to expect, what to know in advance, and key points to consider as you get ready to start your paralegal career.
1. What is the scope of practice for paralegals in Ontario?
Paralegals in Ontario have a special status—and much wider scope of practice than their peers in other parts of the country. This is what makes this career path so attractive to people who want challenging, robust legal careers, without years and years (and years!) of university training.
If you become a paralegal in Ontario, you will be licensed to handle a range of legal matters, including:
- small claims cases
- motor vehicle offenses
- summary conviction offences where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months' imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine
- landlord and tenant disputes
- tribunal hearings (Social Benefits Tribunal, Financial Services Commission of Ontario, Assessment Review Board, etc.)
Right now, there is actually a big push to expand paralegals' scope of practice to include certain aspects of family law (such as uncontested, straightforward divorces). The Law Society of Upper Canada has approved the plan, and intends to move forward with mapping out the finer details.
What's driving this trend? A huge need for affordable, skilled legal services in Ontario. At last count, government research showed that more than 57% of Ontario residents have represented themselves in family court—because they couldn't afford a lawyer.
Demand for greater access to legal representation is creating new opportunities for paralegals in Ontario, and spurring more people to seek out careers in this field.
2. What does paralegal training involve?
So let's say you're ready to go for it, and begin paralegal training this year. What can you expect from college programs?
Most paralegal diplomas or certificates are intensive, full-time programs. Many can be completed in 12 months, with a class load of about 20 hours per week. Our students tell us the program is challenging, and moves quite quickly—but they're very happy to be out in the workforce after just one year.
You can expect your courses to cover every area of law you'll be authorized to practice as a licensed paralegal (listed above). Most programs also include training in:
- practice management
- legal accounting
- professional ethics
- alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
- legal research
- office software
- Canadian legal system
3. What should you look for in a quality paralegal program?
First and foremost, the paralegal program you choose must be accredited by the Law Society. Next, it's a good idea to look at the college offering the training, and ensure it's a trusted institution with a solid track record of career training in your community.
Book an advising appointment to learn more about who teaches the course, tour the campus, and assess the facilities. Ask about sitting in on a paralegal class, to get a feel for the instructor, talk with some students, and see if it's a good fit for you.
Special tip: Some schools offer no-risk trials, where you can "try out" a program before committing to enrollment—so it's worth inquiring about this when you contact admissions.
Another key feature is the internship, which should be included in your paralegal training, and a mandatory requirement for graduation. 120 hours of field work is standard, although some colleges arrange for more.
The internship is your opportunity to integrate and apply what you've learned in the previous 12 months of training. It's a key factor in transitioning from student to professional—and our students always say, the best part of the program.
4. What is the licensing process for paralegals in Ontario?
After you've completed your accredited paralegal diploma or certificate, you have a few more hurdles to clear before you can start work. Namely, you need to apply for licensing with the Law Society of Upper Canada.
This process includes:
- completing an application form
- paying a non-refundable fee (at least 30 days before exam day)
- providing an official transcript from an accredited paralegal program
- providing proof of identity
Then, you've got to pass the paralegal licensing exam. This is a rigorous 7-hour exam, that is divided into two, 3.5-hour sessions.
It consists entirely of multiple choice questions, and covers all areas of professional practice for paralegals. The good news is you can bring study materials into the test, including notes and text books.
It takes 6-8 weeks to get your results, which are (somewhat disappointingly) expressed as merely a "pass" or "fail". However, if you do fail, you'll get a more detailed breakdown of where you went wrong, so you can target your prep for next time.
Candidates can attempt the paralegal licensing exam 3 times, over a 3-year period.
And finally, once you've conquered the exam, there is one last task to be done. You must prove your "good character" to the Law Society by disclosing certain information, such as any past criminal convictions.
See finer details of Ontario paralegal licensing procedures right here.
5. Planning to start your own practice after paralegal training?
Is your dream to build your own legal practice after paralegal training? It's important to get a sense of what this endeavor entails. There is steady demand for paralegals in Ontario, which is positive—but that doesn't mean you won't face competition from new and established practices.
There are a few things to think about, before you start training, and as you work through the program. Some major points to consider include:
- what specific legal services you'll offer (will you be a generalist, or specialize in one or two areas of law?)
- is there demand for specific paralegal services where you live, and which services are those?
- who is your target market?
- how will you attract those first crucial customers? (web site, social media, community-based networking)
- do you need to secure financing for your new practice?
- will you fly solo, or partner up with other paralegals?
Start sketching out a plan sooner than later, because as you know, training takes just one year and flies by fast! Want to take it slow? You could work for an established firm for a few years, to learn the ropes and gain experience, before striking out on your own.
6. What are common pros & cons of becoming a paralegal?
And last, but not least, something to consider before you start paralegal training, are common pros and cons of starting a career in this field.
We've touched on some of these already, but here's a helpful roundup:
PRO: Paralegal training is very quick to complete. Earn your diploma in just 12 months.
CON: Because it's intensive, paralegal training is fast-paced and challenging. Get ready to work hard, and make sure you've got support from family and friends.
PRO: You have quite a few career options as a paralegal: work in government, the corporate sector, legal aide, a private firm, with a lobby group, or community organization (you can also specialize in a specific area of law).
CON: Ontario offers steady work opportunities, but the province attracts a lot of paralegal students. It's a competitive marketplace for new grads, so you'll need to network and promote yourself to kickstart your career.
PRO: You can start your own paralegal business. People with entrepreneurial aspirations can go far in this field!
Still have questions about paralegal training?
Have a question we didn't answer here? We'd be happy to speak with you. Use the link below to explore the accredited Paralegal Diploma Program offered at Herzing College, Toronto.
Browse a detailed course list, chat online with an Admissions Advisor, or request free information via email. An Advisor can guide you through admission requirements, tuition costs, financial aid options, program start-dates, class schedules, and more.
This is the best way to confirm this program (and career) is right for you. We're here to help!