You may be aware that paralegals have a special status in Ontario.
Unlike their peers in other areas of Canada, paralegals in Ontario can earn a license and represent clients independently. They have a high degree of autonomy and a broad scope of practice.
But there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about paralegal training, duties, and career options. Before you head down this path, you need to make sure you understand the facts about the profession.
In this post, we explain the reality behind 7 of the biggest myths about paralegals.
Read on to get a true picture of the role and see if it’s right for you.
MYTH #1: PARALEGALS IN ONTARIO MUST BE LICENSED
Fact: You actually have a choice.
You do need a license if you want to represent clients on your own. But you could also opt to become a legal assistant who works under the supervision of a lawyer, in which case no license is required.
Crown attorney and Herzing paralegal instructor Ilya Medovikov says most of his students go the licensing route, but not all.
“In my current class, about 85% are planning to challenge the licensing exam. Many students are aiming to run their own paralegal business.
Others are already working as legal assistants. They are pursuing licensing so the law firm they work at can offer more services.”
MYTH #2: PARALEGALS CAN REPRESENT CLIENTS IN ALL AREAS OF LAW
Fact: Licensed paralegals can give legal advice and advocate for clients in specific legal matters.
These include traffic violations, landlord-tenant disputes, wrongful dismissal cases, and certain criminal matters.
However, their scope of practice does not extend to other areas, such as real estate law or family law. For example, they’re not allowed to draft wills or separation agreements.
Note that these limits only apply to paralegals who practice independently. If you become a legal assistant, you can work in any area of law (more on that next).
MYTH #3: ALL PARALEGALS IN ONTARIO START THEIR OWN PRACTICES
Fact: Some graduates of paralegal training choose to become legal assistants instead.
In this role, you would support the work of a lawyer by helping with research, drafting legal documents, managing client files, preparing witnesses, and more.
Legal assistants cannot give legal advice or represent clients. But they can assist lawyers in any specialty, including criminal law, corporate law, family law, and other areas that are out of scope for licensed paralegals.
You could work for law firms, lobby groups, non-profit organizations, government agencies, or corporate legal departments. There are plenty of options.
MYTH #4: PARALEGAL TRAINING ALWAYS TAKES YEARS
Fact: It’s possible to complete paralegal training in only 12 months. Herzing’s program is just one year long.
Training covers everything you need to know to pass the paralegal licensing exam, manage your own practice, or work as a legal assistant.
An accelerated program covers a lot of ground in a relatively short time. Herzing graduate Majeeda Khan says you need to be prepared for things to move quickly.
“The course material was in-depth, but manageable. We were always learning something new, and were tested every second week to ensure we understood and stayed on track.
The program is fast-paced, but we always had time to work on assignments in class. I was able to juggle school, work, and volunteering!”
MYTH #5: A PARALEGAL DEGREE IS “BETTER” THAN A DIPLOMA
Fact: Any paralegal studies program that’s accredited by the Law Society of Ontario will prepare you for licensing.
Paralegal degree programs are typically 4 years long and include several general education courses like criminology and the philosophy of law.
College-level diploma and certificate programs run for 1 to 2 years. They focus on the practical skills you need to thrive as a paralegal.
So is one better than the other? Ilya says it depends on your priorities.
“If you’re looking to practice as a paralegal and want a quicker path to licensing, a diploma or certificate program could be a good option.
If you think you may want to go to law school at some point, the 4-year program is worth considering.”
MYTH #6: PARALEGALS DON’T MAKE MUCH MONEY
Fact: In Ontario, a paralegal career typically comes with a comfortable income.
According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, the median salary for paralegals in Ontario is about $60,000.
The highest-paid paralegals in the province earn six-figure salaries.
MYTH #7: ALL PARALEGALS ASPIRE TO BECOME LAWYERS
Fact: Not every paralegal is a wannabe lawyer.
It’s true that some people become paralegals to dip their toes in the legal field and see if becoming an attorney is right for them.
Experienced paralegals often make good law students because they’re familiar with the terminology and concepts and they understand how a law firm works.
But many people enjoy being paralegals and aren’t interested in spending the extra time and money to become full-fledged lawyers.
THINK A PARALEGAL CAREER IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Finding accredited paralegal training is step one.
Have a look at the accelerated paralegal diploma program at Herzing College.
It takes just 12 months and includes a 4-week internship.
Graduates are fully prepared to work as legal assistants or take the Law Society of Ontario’s paralegal licensing exam.
Click below to get full details on the paralegal program and chat live with an Admissions Advisor. We’re here to help!