Should Paralegals Be Allowed to Sit Past the Bar?

Amanda Bernardo

Paralegals Sitting Past the Bar

The practice of law has remained an age old tradition held by lawyers; however, in recent years paralegals have become a practical alternative for young professionals. On May 1st, 2007, The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) became responsible for regulating the paralegal profession in Ontario. In turn, paralegals gained status as licensees in specific areas of law. However, despite these growing opportunities, certain traditions continue to bear resistance to change. The Marian Lippa case attests to this very premise.

The Toronto paralegal has applied to overturn a decision banning paralegals from sitting past the bar. Traditionally, according to the Barrister’s Act, this right is reserved for lawyers.1 This precedent-setting case will arguably establish either an equal presence among lawyers and paralegals before the court, or shall regrettably continue to adhere to an archaic tradition which continues to separate licensees in the courtroom. The Marian Lippa case acknowledges that despite Ontario Legislature’s initial desire to regulate paralegals, paralegal regulation requires greater recognition, support, respect, and equal rights in the courtroom.

Paralegals Are Not Respected Before the Court

As a licensee, Marian Lippa was given standing to appear before the court on summary conviction matters. Despite this standing, on June 10th, 2010, a Justice of the Peace had ordered that sitting past the bar was reserved for counsel. As Lippa’s sworn statement affirms:

Justice of the Peace Forrest essentially addressed me, as a paralegal, and stated that in the future I was to sit in the body of the court and that counsel had precedence over paralegals. Specifically, the Justice stated that court tradition required that paralegals, as they were not called to the bar, were not permitted to sit past the bar and speak to matters prior to counsel. (Lippa Aff. 19)

Despite paralegals not being called to the bar, they are licensed to appear before various courts and tribunals. The order that had essentially been given by the Justice of the Peace contradicts the changes in law that have allowed for paralegals to fill a need in providing legal services to the public. By contradicting these changes, paralegals fall short in a hierarchical chain that does not recognize their licensed abilities. Marian Lippa argues:

As trained and, now regulated, professionals, the effect of the order is to bring our work and services as paralegals into disrepute. Although it may be personally insulting to paralegals to be treated this way, especially those who have been appearing before the courts for years, it is the public effect of the order that is more significant. Members of the public who are before the courts may feel that somehow [their] interests are not being protected as well as or with the same diligence as counsel, when they appear with a paralegal. (Lippa Aff. 27)

Marian Lippa’s experiences demonstrate that the licensing process for paralegals is ultimately given a lack of respect before the court. By seeking that this order be overturned, Marian Lippa is not only attempting to rectify her predicament, but arguably the entire practice for paralegals in the future.

Read Part 2 of this Article: Bringing Respect to Paralegals for a review of the Attorney’s Five Year Report and how it can be applied to improve recognition for paralegals.

1. Barristers Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. B.3