An overview is provided of the function and role of paralegals in the delivery of legal services in Canada.
In spite of an increase in the number of lawyers in Canada, the general availability of legal services has only marginally improved. The majority of lawyers continue to serve a small proportion of the population. Legal aid for criminal and matrimonial matters has provided employment and an initial source of income for younger lawyers, but lawyers and the general public recognize that for the most part, the legal profession is not available for, or skilled at handling the multitude of problems confronting the majority of the population. This has prompted the development of paralegals, with less training and lower economic expectations than attorneys to handle real estate conveyancing, motor vehicle accident investigation, landlord and tenant disputes, and labor-management disputes. Three subgroups of paraprofessionals are law clerks, community legal workers, and independent agents. The law clerk frees the lawyer from the repetitive routine tasks of a corporate or litigation practice and provides legal manpower at an hourly rate of one-third to one-tenth that of a lawyer. There is little evidence, however, that this cost saving is passed on to the client. Community legal workers are funded from the public sector to work with the poor in helping them with individual legal problems and to organize to improve their socioeconomic conditions. The paraprofessional who as an independent agent is unaffiliated with the legal profession and is called upon to consider and handle legal problems in the course of his/her employment in such postions as civil servant, trust officer, or freelance title searcher. Each of these subgroups of paraprofessionals is discussed in detail. Tables and footnotes are included.