By Chyanne Sharma, BC Legal Coach
Paralegals and lawyers form a unique and complementary partnership, combining their respective skill sets, education, and ethical standards to provide competent and quality legal services to clients. In British Columbia, paralegals play a vital role in assisting lawyers with legal tasks, conducting research, and drafting documents, all under the supervision of licensed lawyers. The Law Society of British Columbia Paralegal Task Force defines paralegals as “a non-lawyer employee who is competent to carry out the legal work that, in the paralegal’s absence, would need to be done by the lawyer.”
In June 2012, the BC Law Society Benchers approved changes to expand the roles and responsibilities of paralegals, with the aim of increasing public access to affordable legal services. These changes led to the introduction of "designated paralegals" which became effective July 13, 2012. Designated paralegals are authorized to provide legal advice and represent clients before courts or tribunals subject to certain conditions and the availability of their supervising lawyer.
What can BC Paralegals do?
Paralegals in British Columbia handle various essential tasks under the direct supervision of lawyers, including:
- Assisting with drafting and formatting legal documents, such as court documents, desk divorce packages, agreements, and correspondence.
- Organizing and preparing court documents for filing.
- Conducting legal research within specified parameters.
- Communicating with clients to provide legal information.
- Administering oaths and statutory declarations, which includes affidavits.
- Calculating child and spousal support payments based on the applicable guidelines.
What can Designated Paralegals do in BC?
Designated paralegals, with the permission and ongoing direct supervision of their supervising lawyer(s), are authorized to:
- Provide legal advice.
- Represent clients before courts or tribunals (except in family law arbitration).
- Represent clients at family law mediations.
However, it is crucial for clients to be aware of the distinction between designated paralegals and lawyers and to understand the specific role of the designated paralegal within their legal matter. Where designated paralegals are permitted to perform any of the above approved tasks, their supervising lawyer must always remain available either by phone or any other electronic means. Additionally, any agreement resulting from a family law mediation must undergo final review by the supervising lawyer.
What BC paralegals cannot do?
As mentioned above, while paralegals perform important tasks, their work is always subject to the supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals must not present themselves as lawyers, provide legal advice (unless permitted to do so as a designated paralegal), or notarize legal documents. Notarization is a function reserved for practicing lawyers, notaries, and certain government officials or representatives.
Regulation of Paralegals in BC
Paralegals in British Columbia are not directly regulated by an overarching regulatory body. However, the Law Society of British Columbia sets rules and standards that govern the conduct and practice of paralegals. As such, paralegals must work under the supervision of a lawyer. The Law Society also allows lawyers to supervise up to two designated paralegals, who may perform additional duties while remaining under the oversight of the supervising lawyer.
Future Developments on the Regulation of Paralegals
In 2018, amendments to the Legal Professions Act were enacted to create a new category of legal service providers known as licensed paralegals. These amendments grant the Law Society the authority to establish rules defining the scope of practice for licensed paralegals. These amendments have not yet come into force; however, the BC Paralegal Association offers a voluntary "voting membership" that is only open to paralegals who have graduated from a recognized program or who have worked as a paralegal for a minimum period of time. Voting members are provided a recognized titled “BCPA Registered Paralegal”, which is recognized under the Tradesmark Act, but is not otherwise a legally protected designation.
When to Consider Hiring a Lawyer or Legal Coach
When facing a legal conflict, it is advisable to seek legal advice early on to understand the risks and obligations specific to your case. Working with a legal coach allows you to remain self-represented while benefiting from the guidance and advice of a qualified lawyer. If entering into a formal written agreement or consent order in family law matters, obtaining independent legal advice is recommended to ensure awareness of rights, understanding of the agreement's contents, and protection against any undue influence or duress.
Paralegals in British Columbia are valuable members of the legal profession, providing essential support to lawyers and helping to increase access to legal services. Understanding the roles, limitations, and regulatory framework surrounding paralegals is crucial when seeking legal assistance. By leveraging the expertise of both paralegals and lawyers, individuals can navigate their legal matters effectively while maintaining control over their case and ensuring informed decision-making. Coach My Case offers flexible service options, including paralegal support, legal coaching, or a combination of both, allowing clients to customize their legal support while being supervised by an experienced family lawyer. Book your consult today either by phone or online.