40/5 Vote: A Step Forward for Paralegal Governance

Amanda Bernardo

40/5: A Step Forward for Paralegal Governance

Changes to the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Governance Structure Offers a Step Forward for Paralegals

The issue of governance has remained a hot topic for paralegals since regulation. At the October 2012 Convocation, the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Treasurer announced the creation of a working group, the Priority Planning Committee, to address governance issues.[1] The issue itself remains focused on sentiments of self-regulation that were initially ignored in developing paralegal regulation.

In 2006, the Paralegal Society of Ontario (PSO) was among those promoting self-regulation. In their White Paper on the Licensing and Governance of Paralegals, the PSO suggested that “self-regulation of the paralegal profession [was] the best way to protect the public interest, safeguard the consumer, and enable the growth and professional development of paralegal practitioners”. [2] Instead of self-regulation, the Law Society of Upper Canada, who currently regulates lawyers in Ontario, was appointed the task of regulating the paralegal profession:

In the interest of striking some measure of balance between enhancing public access to justice and ensuring protection for those receiving legal advice from non-lawyers, on May 1, 2007, persons providing paralegal services in Ontario joined the province’s lawyers under regulation of the Law Society of Upper Canada.[3]

Though governance issues still remain a topic of discussion among paralegals, the Law Society of Upper Canada has endeavoured to respond to such issues by increasing paralegal representation within the structure of the Law Society’s governing body (Convocation).

Paralegals Increase from 2 to 5 benchers in Convocation

Initially, the Law Society’s Convocation was comprised of only 2 of the 5 paralegals that made up the Paralegal Standing Committee. As of April 2013, Convocation has approved the changes suggested by the Priority Planning Committee to change its governance structure to include all five elected paralegals of the Paralegal Standing Committee to become benchers (members of Convocation).[4] An amendment to the Law Society Act is now required to implement these changes.

The change is a positive step forward in acting upon the various recommendations presented by David Morris’ report to the Attorney General on the Five Year Review of Paralegal Regulation in Ontario. [5] Nevertheless, the scale of governance does remain unbalanced for many paralegals. The Law Society’s Convocation that is made up of 40 lawyers, and now 5 paralegals, still offsets representation that many fear will impede progress. As motions have been proposed and withdrawn with the Law Society on various paralegal matters, one critical point to note is the 40/5 vote that will always allow lawyers to bear a greater majority in the fate of the paralegal profession.

Will the 40/5 threat subside or remain an issue of governance?

Despite the step forward the Law Society has made in including all 5 paralegals in Convocation, the outnumbering lawyers will remain a threat to many paralegals. However, the threat itself should subside. It is important that paralegals and lawyers work together. In a profession that is similar and often compared to that of lawyers, progress for paralegals in regulation, education, expansion, and public knowledge will all need the support of the majority rule held by the 40 lawyers that make up Convocation. If the paralegal voice will always be outnumbered within the Law Society of Upper Canada, many paralegals will constantly have issue with governance. If, however, the Law Society continued with these positive steps forward by working towards a collegial relationship among paralegals and lawyers, the notion of being “outnumbered” would be replaced with a foundation of equity that would encourage equal representation among both professions in order to promote justice, fairness, and impartiality.