Over the last few years, paralegal has become a very popular career choice in Ontario. There are a few reasons for this. One, there's the special status of paralegals in Ontario—which means they can represent clients in court for certain matters, and run their own practices.
Two, when you compare to law school, you can become a paralegal and start your career quite quickly. Admission requirements for paralegal programs are fairly simple, and the training itself takes just 1-2 years to complete.
Plus, there's huge demand for more affordable legal services in Ontario. Paralegals charge less than lawyers, making it possible for more people to seek representation in certain areas of the law.
Seriously considering this career path? What should you know, up-front, about the steps involved in becoming a paralegal?
Here's our checklist of things to know (and do) to figure out if paralegal is the right career for you — and get off to a strong start.
1. Understand paralegal training & licensing requirements
There are many schools offering paralegal training in Ontario. You can find one or two-year programs, and some colleges offer part time studies.
At Herzing College Toronto, we offer an accelerated 12-month Paralegal Diploma. Our students say it's intense—but they're very happy to be done and working in the field, in just one year. It all depends on your schedule, learning needs, and priorities.
Important: No matter which paralegal program you choose, ensure it's accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada. You can't take the licensing exam if you don't graduate from an accredited program.
Quick facts about paralegal licensing:
- Licensing is mandatory for all paralegals in Ontario
- You can take the exam after completing accredited paralegal training, and submitting an application to the Law Society
- The paralegal exam is 7 hours, divided into two 3.5 hour sessions (one in the morning, and one in the afternoon)
- The exam is multiple choice
- Topics include Canadian Law – Jurisdiction and Fundamentals; Administrative Law; Civil Litigation; Criminal and Quasi-criminal Law; Professional Responsibility, Ethics and Practice Management
- You can attempt the exam a maximum of 3 times within a 3 year period
- See a list of upcoming paralegal exam dates in Toronto right here
Learn more: The Paralegal Licensing Process in Ontario
2. Know your career options as a paralegal
So, you probably know that paralegals can start their own practices, and represent clients in certain courts and tribunals. Most of our students want to go this route, because it means they can:
- set their own hours
- choose which cases to take
- determine their own earning potential
You'll find many paralegals focus on a certain area of practice—like landlord/tenant disputes, motor vehicle offenses, small claims, or human rights cases.
If you start a practice, or join an existing firm, you can select an area of law that you're really passionate about, and build a reputation for expertise in that area.
But let's say you don't want to start a practice. Paralegals have other career options, including working for:
- lobby groups
- government agencies
- corporate legal departments
- non-profit organizations
As a first step, we recommend reviewing the scope of practice for paralegals in Ontario: what areas of law are you allowed to practice? Which of these domains is most interesting to you, and how do you see yourself advocating for clients in that area?
Take a look at what's actually involved in starting (and running) a paralegal practice. Get a sense of the additional business skills you'll need, and see if it feels like a good fit.
Check out these posts for more advice:
3. Preview the Topics you'll study in paralegal training
Accredited paralegal programs all teach the same curriculum, approved by the Law Society. So, you can pull up a course list from an accredited program, and get a good preview of what you'll be learning in class.
Not all colleges offer a detailed course list, so look around until you find one that really breaks it all down. Or, click below to see Herzing's paralegal course list—it has very detailed descriptions of each course/topic.
4. Find a mentor, explore paralegal pros & cons
Learning about training programs and licensing requirements are definitely key steps for anyone hoping to become a paralegal. But this information won't paint a complete picture what it's really like to work in the field.
For that, you'll need to talk with a practising paralegal, and get their take on pros and cons, and what to expect. Can you reach out to someone in your community?
Check your social media connections, particularly LinkedIn, and see if you can find a paralegal who is willing to chat with you, and share some advice.
And on your own, take some time to look at both the advantages and challenges of this career path.
Here's a good place to start: Pros & Cons of Becoming a Paralegal: Advice for New Students
Or, check out this article: Would You be Happy in a Paralegal Career? Answer These 6 Questions
5. Speak with an admissions advisor
A good admissions advisor can be extremely helpful in guiding you through the logistics of becoming a paralegal, including financial aid, class scheduling, and careers options.
But, they're also a great resource for figuring out if this path is truly right for you. They've met with hundreds of paralegal hopefuls. They understand the field, and know what it takes to succeed in training.
They'll talk to you about skillset, the demands of the program, and launching your career. Of course, this is also your chance to evaluate the college, get a tour, and maybe even drop in on a paralegal class.
We strongly suggest meeting with an advisor sooner rather than later. Make this your top priority, so you can better understand training requirements, ensure you're eligible to apply, and start comparing paralegal schools.
All accredited paralegal programs cover similar content in similar ways—but when it comes to overall learning experience, every college is different. A big part of succeeding in training is finding the school that really fits your needs.
Meeting with admissions helps you narrow down your options, clarify your goals, and find the right fit.
Want to learn more about paralegal training at Herzing College Toronto? We'd love to hear from you. Use the links below to explore the program, request free information, and chat live with an admissions advisor. We're here to help!