A paralegal is someone with training and knowledge of the law who
can provide a limited range of legal services, often under supervision
of a lawyer. If you have a legal concern or question, a paralegal may be
a more affordable alternative to a lawyer. But there are differences
between the two and a lawyer can offer a much wider range of
A paralegal’s responsibilities and areas of
practice depends on their jurisdiction. Each province and territory
strictly defines the rights, restrictions, and regulations governing the
job, and there is some variation.
What they can do
A primary difference between the two is when and
where they can represent you. A lawyer can represent you in any type of
legal proceeding or tribunal, from small claims court to the Supreme
Court of Canada and on any type of legal issue.
Paralegals are much more limited. They can
represent you in small claims court, traffic court, or tribunals like a
landlord and tenant board, or the Workplace Safety Insurance Board.
A paralegal can also act as counsel for
Immigration Refugee Board tribunals, but cannot represent you in case of
an appeal that goes to federal court.
Depending on the province, a paralegal may
represent you in other cases. In Ontario, they can represent you for
minor criminal offences like shoplifting, or anything else with a
sentence of less than six months.
They cannot assist with drafting legal documents like wills.
Certification and regulation
A lawyer has far more education than a paralegal.
On average, a lawyer has at least seven years of education, plus
articling with a firm. Paralegals attend a few years of college, but
they do not attend law school or have a law degree.
Paralegals are not licensed or regulated in most
provinces and they must work under supervision of a lawyer. In 2006,
Ontario became the first province to begin regulating its paralegals,
meaning they can operate independently. An independent paralegal is
required to carry insurance, just as a lawyer is. Ontario paralegals are
regulated through the Law Society of Upper Canada, and you can use its
web site to find a paralegal and ensure they are in good standing.