What is a Paralegal? Job Description, Careers, Training Requirements

Updated January 2023

The first thing to know about paralegals is that the job description varies depending on where you live—and whether you are licensed.  

In Ontario, paralegals can pass a licensing exam that allows them to represent clients independently (like a lawyer) for certain legal matters. Ontario is one of the few regions in Canada where paralegals have this option.

A licensed paralegal in Ontario can start their own private legal practice. They can represent clients in small claims court, traffic court, and tribunals, and for certain criminal matters. 

In other parts of Canada, paralegals do not have the option to obtain a licence and operate independently. Instead, their role is to support lawyers—as legal assistants or law clerks. 

Ontario paralegals have a choice. They can decide to get licensed and represent clients independently. Or they can become legal assistants (which does not require a licence).  It all depends on your career goals. 

In this post, we’ll walk you through the job descriptions of licensed paralegals and legal assistants, and the training required to get started in this field. 

What Does a Licensed Paralegal Do?

In Ontario, a licensed paralegal can start their own practice or join an existing paralegal firm.  They can also become commissioners, notary publics, or Justices of the Peace.

You can challenge the paralegal licensing exam after completing a recognized paralegal course. The program must be accredited by the Law Society of Ontario. 

Once you have your licence, you are authorized to give legal advice and represent clients in certain legal matters. These include: 

Small Claims Court: Claims up to $35,000, such as slip and fall, employment contracts, wrongful dismissal, contract disputes, and unpaid invoices. 

Criminal Summary Convictions: Criminal offences with a maximum $5,000 fine, imprisonment of up to six months, or both. 

Provincial Offences: Such as speeding, driving without a permit, trespassing, parking infractions, excessive noise, etc. 

Boards and Tribunals: Including the Landlord and Tenant Board, Financial Services Commission of Ontario, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. 

Licensed paralegals are trained to prepare legal documents, participate in hearings and appeals, conduct legal research, take affidavits and depositions, and advocate for clients. 

Note: If you operate your own practice, you will also need some business management skills. These include marketing your services, client relations, building a web presence, and bookkeeping. These are all part of the day-to-day work of a licensed paralegal.


Paralegals can also work as Legal Assistants 

Not all paralegal graduates choose to earn a license and represent clients independently. Some decide to become legal assistants. 

A legal assistant supports a lawyer or a team of lawyers. They work in government, at private law firms, in corporate legal departments, at courthouses, and for community organizations. 

Legal assistants are not permitted to give clients legal advice and represent clients in court. However, they do play an extremely important role within the legal team. 

Typical responsibilities for legal assistants include: 

☑️ Assist lawyers with legal research 

☑️ Draft legal documents, such as deeds, wills, affidavits, and briefs 

☑️ Communicate with clients 

☑️ Manage client files 

☑️ Schedule appointments and meetings for supervising lawyers 

☑️ File court documents 

☑️ Generate bills and send out invoices 

☑️ Attend court, meetings, or conferences to take notes, minutes, and dictation 

Unlike licensed paralegals, legal assistants can work in any area of law. They can assist lawyers who specialize in family law, criminal law, intellectual property, copyright law, corporate law, etc. 

Licensed paralegals can only practice in the legal areas we mentioned above. Becoming a legal assistant lets you explore other areas of law.  


Which Paralegal career path should you choose? 

This depends entirely on your interests and priorities. Do you dream of representing clients in court? Would you love to join a paralegal practice or start your own firm? 

If the answer is yes, becoming a licensed paralegal is your path. 

But what if you’d rather work with lawyers and assist with cases? Or maybe you’re interested in an area of law that is off-limits to licensed paralegals? 

Becoming a legal assistant would be a better fit. Your paralegal training will give you a very solid foundation in law, legal procedures, documents, and research—making you a competitive candidate for legal assistant jobs. 


Paralegal training requirements 

Whether you choose to become a licensed paralegal or a legal assistant, your first step is to complete a quality paralegal course.

The paralegal training you select must be accredited by the Law Society. Wondering if the college you want to attend is accredited? See a list of approved paralegal schools here. 

Paralegal programs range from one to two years. They cover all the topics you must learn to pass the licensing exam or work as a legal assistant.

Training includes detailed instruction on how to manage your own paralegal practice.

You will also complete an internship, which will give you valuable work experience at a law firm. Some of our paralegal students get hired straight out of their internships. 


Still have questions about paralegals?

If you're interested in learning more about paralegal training or careers, we recommend speaking with an admissions advisor.

An advisor will answer your questions, discuss your background and goals, and help you decide if you're a good fit for this role.

Get started by exploring the accredited paralegal diploma program offered at Herzing College Toronto.

Click below to browse courses, licensing, and career information or chat live with an admissions A=advisor. We're here to help!

Explore the Paralegal Program at Herzing


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