Ontario is an ideal place to become a paralegal. Because of the special status of paralegals in Ontario, you have more career options than anywhere else in the country.
You can work at a law firm, join a paralegal practice, work in the corporate sector, for government, or start your own business.
The role is challenging, there is opportunity to specialize, and you can get started very quickly—some paralegal programs take just 12 months to complete.
But all of this opportunity has created a fairly competitive market for paralegals in Ontario. Demand is still holding steady (there is definitely a need for the affordable legal services paralegals offer), but it's not easy to land a great job, or get your own practice off the ground.
Like in most occupations, new graduates have to work hard to differentiate themselves, and ensure their careers flourish. Being passionate, hard-working, and persistent is key...but there are other strategic moves paralegals can make to give themselves an edge.
Here are a few key skills and strategies to keep in mind as you transition from student to professional, and launch your paralegal career.
Start with an Accredited Paralegal Diploma
This is obviously step #1 for anyone who wants to become a paralegal. A quality paralegal diploma will give you the foundational knowledge you need to pass the Ontario paralegal licensing exam, and start working in the field.
Your training will cover every area of practice you are legally allowed to work in, as a paralegal in Ontario, including:
- small claims
- landlord and tenant disputes
- motor vehicle offences
- summary conviction offences (where the maximum penalty does not exceed six months imprisonment)
- workplace safety and insurance board
- human rights tribunal
- financial services commission of Ontario
Important: Make sure you choose paralegal training that is accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada. Only accredited programs will qualify you to take the licensing exam.
The Law Society requires all candidates to submit a transcript from an accredited program, as part of the exam application process.
Learn more here: 5 Key Facts About the Paralegal Licensing Process in Ontario
Find your niche
You'll emerge from training qualified to practice in several areas of law. However, most paralegals find it advantageous to pick a niche, and build expertise in one or two areas.
For example, you'll find paralegals who work exclusively with landlord and tenant disputes, or traffic offences. Others focus on real estate, corporate governance, or public administration. Consider your interests, and where you'd like to deepen your knowledge and experience.
It's also smart to look at local demand. What paralegal services are most in demand where you live? How can you differentiate yourself from the competition? Do you have a special skill—like a second or third language, will could help you attract more clients?
Bottom line: According to the latest government data, there are over 17,000 paralegals in Ontario. Your ability to find a niche, and make a name for yourself within this talent pool, is key to success in 2019.
There are over 2000 self-employed paralegals in Ontario. Many newly-licensed grads choose to join a paralegal practice, or start their own. But not all of them have the business savvy needed to successfully manage and sustain a business over the long term.
An accredited paralegal program will offer some preparation in this area—courses on setting up and running your own practice. However, it will be up to you to put these skills into action, and develop new ones, to ensure your business is profitable.
Some management skills you'll need to compete as a practice owner include:
- marketing (website, social media presence, local events)
- daily operations (file management, appointments, communications, billing)
- business development (getting referrals and testimonials, and then leveraging them to attract more clients)
- accounting (compliance, tax planning, financial strategy)
It's not a bad idea to consider some basic business training, especially if you're completely new to this, and need support getting your paralegal practice up and running.
Marketing is a particularly important skill to master, especially if you're planning to start your own paralegal practice. Not everyone is a natural networker or self-promoter—or knowledgeable about things like social media outreach and advertising.
You don't need a marketing degree to attract paralegal clients, but developing some skills in this area is definitely important for competing in 2019. For example, figuring out how to create and manage social media accounts for your practice, setting up a simple website, running a few ads, and generating an email contact list.
You may have to do some pro-bono work in the beginning, just to gain traction, build experience, and get referrals. Getting listed in paralegal directories and through associations is also a good strategy.
Successful paralegals map out their marketing goals, and then work backward, determining which resources, skills, and support they'll need to achieve those goals. Having a workable plan is half the battle.
The ability to use online research tools, spreadsheets, databases, e-filing systems, presentation software—these are all crucial for today's paralegals.
Add to that list performing simple website updates, social media networking skills, and a basic understanding of online promotional techniques, and you have a substantial repertoire of technology skills.
Paralegals who work hard to stay relevant in this area definitely have a competitive edge.
Certification in Mediation & Arbitration
Your paralegal training will include instruction in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques, such as arbitration and mediation. The goal of ADR is to keep disputes out of court.
Expanding your knowledge and experience in this area can be extremely helpful, in terms of helping clients work through disputes—and expanding the services you're qualified to offer as a legal professional.
The training you receive in paralegal college won't be enough to qualify you for certification with the ADR Institute of Canada. However, if you pursue additional courses, you can take a qualifying exam and earn the Institute's Qualified Arbitrator (Q. Arb) designation.
There is a similar process to become a Qualified Mediator (Q. Med). Just ensure the arbitration and mediation training you take is accredited by the ADR Institute.
Neither of these practices is regulated in Ontario, so it is not mandatory to join the Institute and earn the Q. Arb or Q. Med designations—however, these credentials are considered standard for anyone who works as a mediator or arbitrator in Canada.
Adding them to your professional profile will help you attract more clients, and expand the scope of your paralegal practice.
Have other questions about how to start a paralegal career? Looking for reliable training options, or help deciding if this path is right for you?
We strongly recommend speaking with a qualified admissions advisor. At Herzing College, we've trained hundreds of successful paralegals, and have decades of experience matching prospective students with diploma programs.
We'd be happy to talk with you about paralegal admission requirements, career options, and your professional goals. Use the links below to get started.