Ontario is the only province in Canada that offers paralegals the chance to become licensed and practice independently in certain areas of law.
That's no minor thing. Being licensed means you can represent clients on your own before tribunals, in small claims court, and in certain criminal matters.
You can also conduct legal research, participate in hearings, prepare legal documents, take depositions and affidavits, and give legal advice.
To earn a paralegal license from the Law Society of Ontario, you have to graduate from an accredited paralegal studies program and pass the licensing exam.
There are different types of programs, including diplomas, certificates, and bachelor's degrees. Lengths vary from 1-4 years.
In this post, we focus on the fastest route to becoming a licensed paralegal—a paralegal diploma program.
So what exactly will you learn in a paralegal studies diploma? What specific knowledge and skills can you expect to gain?
Let's check out the details.
WHAT MAJOR TOPICS ARE COVERED IN A PARALEGAL STUDIES DIPLOMA?
Paralegal diploma programs in Ontario are built around preparing students to assist lawyers or represent clients independently within prescribed areas of the law.
You'll get a thorough overview of the Canadian legal system, including the role of tribunals and small claims courts.
You can also expect to get a solid understanding of topics such as:
- Statutes and by-laws
- Torts and contracts
- Consumer protection law
- The litigation process and the rules around evidence
- Alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation, arbitration, and negotiation
- Motor vehicle offences
- Residential landlord and tenant law
- Employment law
- Administrative law
- Criminal/summary conviction proceedings
- Professional ethics
The main goal of paralegal studies is to prepare students for the Ontario paralegal licensing exam. This is a challenging test you must pass if you want to represent clients independently or start your own legal practice.
Everything you learn in class is related to the material covered on this exam.
WHAT SKILLS WILL PARALEGAL STUDIES HELP you DEVELOP?
Paralegal training goes beyond theory. It's not just about learning the workings of the legal system and the different areas of law.
You will also learn practical skills required to run a practice or work as a legal assistant. These include how to:
☑️ Conduct legal research
☑️ Draft legal documents
☑️ Prepare witnesses
☑️ Conduct cross-examinations
☑️ Give opening statements and final arguments
☑️ Start and manage a paralegal practice
Because many Ontario paralegals chose to start their own practice, paralegal studies often goes deeper into business-related skills.
For example, you'll learn how to write a business plan, use computerized billing, manage client files, and market your services.
By the time you graduate you'll be ready to pursue either career path: start your own practice or work as a legal assistant.
HOW WILL paralegal studies PREPARE YOU FOR THE COURTROOM?
A good paralegal program provides hands-on training in courtroom procedures. Many do this through mock trials, which give students an opportunity to put their new knowledge and skills into practice.
Ilya Medovikov is a Crown attorney who teaches the paralegal studies program at Herzing College. He says mock trials are an integral part of the training.
"Each trial takes about a week and a half to complete, so about 12 hours of hands-on practice.
Students are divided into prosecution and defence teams, and others play the roles of witnesses. They run the trial from start to finish.
Everyone gets a chance to examine and cross-examine, introduce evidence, make opening and closing statements, and take a position on sentencing.
We spend a lot of time simulating a real courtroom experience, so students are well prepared for real-world scenarios."
DOES PARALEGAL TRAINING INCLUDE REAL WORK EXPERIENCE?
Accredited paralegal programs must include an internship at a local law firm or legal department. The licensing requirements of the Law Society of Ontario call for a field placement of 120 hours, which generally means 4 weeks.
An internship is your chance to apply what you've learned, learn new skills, and build confidence in your abilities.
Ilya says field placements are a valuable way to get an inside look at the workings of a real law firm.
"The primary purpose is to shadow the supervising lawyer or paralegal, learn how they interact with clients and communicate with opposing counsel, and observe how meetings are conducted."
Herzing graduate Sadique Alexander interned at a firm that specializes in personal injury law. He says it gave him hands-on experience with a range of practical tasks.
"During my internship, I had to complete FSCO (Financial Services Commission of Ontario) forms, contact clients, schedule appointments, and liaise with insurance companies to get client benefits paid after their motor vehicle accidents."
Internships can also result in job offers. Sadique was hired straight out of his internship and now works as a legal assistant specializing in personal injury.
EXPLORE THE PARALEGAL STUDIES PROGRAM AT HERZING COLLEGE
Herzing College offers an accelerated Paralegal diploma program at both the Toronto and Ottawa campuses. The training takes just 12 months and includes a 4-week internship.
Graduates are eligible to take the paralegal licensing exam from the Law Society of Ontario.
Interested in becoming a paralegal and want to learn more about training, licensing, or careers?
Click below to get more details on the program or chat live with an Admissions Advisor who can answer your questions. We're here to help!