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By: Chris Geobey

Welcome back, TPS Nation! Today, we’re excited to share a post written by Chris Geobey, a Licensed Paralegal from Ontario, Canada. Ever wanted to know what Paralegals can do once they become licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada? Me, too. It’s covered in this post! As an added bonus, Chris also shares what Ontario’s “Grandfather of Paralegals” taught him. Pretty cool stuff. It’s great information and insight for paralegals everywhere.

When I first contemplated writing an article for TPS, the first topic I thought of was writing about the history and beginnings of paralegal licensing in the province of Ontario. Some of you may be aware that paralegals can provide legal services directly to clients in specific areas of the law, provided the paralegal is licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC). These areas are specified in the Law Society’s By-Law 4, subsection 6(2).

A paralegal in Ontario can provide legal services in the following areas of practice:

  • Small Claims Court (for matters up to $25,000.00);
  • Ontario Court of Justice under the Provincial Offences Act (e.g.:traffic tickets and other offences under many Ontario provincial and municipal laws);
  • Criminal Court on summary conviction offences (offences where the maximum penalty does not exceed 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine exceeding $5000);
  • Accident Benefits under the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule of the Insurance Act for minor injuries due to a motor vehicle accident; and
  • Administrative tribunals and boards such as the Human Rights Tribunal, The Landlord and Tenant Board, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB) and hundreds of other Ontario provincial and Canadian federal government tribunals and boards.

In order to obtain a paralegal (P1) license in Ontario, an individual must successfully complete an accredited paralegal program approved by the LSUC, be of good character, and pass the Law Society’s P1 licensing examination.

My original intention was to continue and provide more detail relating to the history of paralegal licensing in Ontario. That changed on May 4, 2013, when I attended the Paralegal Society of Ontario’s (PSO) annual conference in Toronto. I had the privilege of hearing guest speaker Mr Brian J. Lawrie speak. After listening to him, I thought it would be worthwhile to share his story with other paralegals.

Mr. Lawrie is no ordinary paralegal. He is considered by many in Ontario to be the “grandfather of paralegals”, and has been a major contributor to government initiatives in the areas of legislation, regulation and education of Ontario’s paralegals. He is recognized as a pioneer of best practices and professionalism for Ontario’s growing paralegal profession.

Mr. Lawrie has also been a long-time advocate of affordable legal services. In May 1984 he founded the company POINTTS (Provincial Offences Information and Traffic Ticket Service), now the largest paralegal firm in Canada. POINTTS provides professional and legal representation to motorists charged with traffic violations. His company has grown to employ hundreds of people and has represented over 600,000 clients in court, with a success rate above 80%.

Prior to the establishment of POINTTS, individuals in Ontario contesting a traffic violation were forced to either represent themselves in court or retain the services of a lawyer. For many people, both options were impracticable.  Most people are unfamiliar with courtroom procedures and many are intimidated by the judicial system, making self-representation a problem. However, the option of retaining a lawyer can be costly, and the majority of lawyers by their own admission are not interested in handling traffic cases.

Mr. Lawrie recognized the opportunity created by this situation. Prior to establishing POINTTS, Brian was a 15-year veteran of the Toronto Police Department and the Essex Constabulary in the United Kingdom. He decided to resign from the police force in 1983 and established POINTTS in 1984.

In 1985 Lawrie and POINTTS were challenged in court by the LSUC who felt Lawrie and POINTTS had no authority to charge fees to defendants for legal representation in traffic matters. Many people felt that lawyers were simply trying to protect their economic territory and monopoly in the traffic ticket business. Paralegals did not begin being licensed in Ontario until 2007. However, many years earlier in 1985 Lawrie argued that under Ontario’s Provincial Offences Act agents were permitted to represent defendants in provincial offence matters. After an intense (and expensive) three-year court battle, he was successful in breaking that monopoly and establishing, for the first time anywhere, the business of court representation by non-lawyers. This was a ground-breaking victory for future paralegals in Ontario.

In November 2006, he became one of the first paralegal benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada appointed by the Attorney General. In this capacity, he provided a vital, contributing voice for the paralegal profession. He was also the first-ever recipient of the Law Society’s Distinguished Paralegal Award, which was created in 2011.

Mr Lawrie was asked last Saturday to speak at the PSO conference about building a successful paralegal practice. He is certainly qualified. He began by speaking about the word ‘career’. He said that the word ‘career’ begins with the word ‘care’, and that we must care about the work we do. ‘Once you stop caring, it’s not a career anymore, it’s just a job’ he said. That really struck home with me.

He also said that paralegals need to focus on service, not money. He suggested paralegals starting their own paralegal practice should consider specializing. “The key is to find something you enjoy doing and combine it with what you are good at,” he said. Mr. Lawrie also stressed the importance of finding great mentors, and that they don’t necessarily have to be legal professionals, suggesting that anyone operating a successful business would make a good mentor.

The final question given to him was, “what is one piece of advice you would give to paralegals just starting out in the profession?” He replied, “Never forget what attracted you to the paralegal profession and why you wanted to become a paralegal. Focus on service and never stop caring about your work.” These are words I will always remember as I embark on my new career as a paralegal.

I hope this article will benefit all paralegals that were not fortunate enough to hear Brian speak on May 4, 2013. He is an inspiration to all of us and living proof that one paralegal can make a huge difference in advocating for our profession and propelling it forward. His efforts have helped open the doors for paralegals in Ontario and pave the way for future generations. Mr. Lawrie’s message echoed that of Theodore Roosevelt who said “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Chris Geobey recently passed the Law Society of Upper Canada’s paralegal exam and is a licensed Paralegal in Ontario, Canada. He graduated from Humber College’s (Toronto) 2-year Paralegal Diploma program with honours. He has also completed college certificates in Justice & Public Safety, Business Studies, and Legal Studies. He is currently completing Humber College’s Alternative Dispute Resolution certificate. He is also a member of the Paralegal Society of Ontario and is planning on making a career change and entering the legal field in the near future.

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Guess what, TPS readers? You get an opportunity to live out Teddy Roosevelt’s inspiring quote today! As a matter of fact, as soon as you exit this post, you do. You get to go “work hard at work worth doing” in the paralegal trenches! A special thanks to Chris for stopping by to share this post with us.

We’ll see you at the end of the week. You have 40 hours (maybe more). Make ‘em count!