advancement, attorneys, autonomy, canada, career, george brown, independence, inspiration, law, law society, legal, motivation, ontario, paralegal standing committee, paralegals, profession, professional, regulation
By: Jamie Collins
“If you put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” – Bruce Lee
Sometimes in life, we are presented with opportunities that change us. They awaken something within us, shape our way of thinking or inspire us to want more, do more, and become more. Today, I am here to tell you about one of those unique opportunities I recently experienced, in a place I never expected to find it.
Several weeks ago, I received an invitation to sit in (virtually) on a “Meet the Candidates” event, which took place in Ontario, Canada on a Saturday. It was an event that allowed all of the candidates running for a seat on Ontario’s Paralegal Standing Committee to present themselves and their beliefs to the voting members of that group. This “Paralegal Standing Committee” would ultimately become the future voice and champions of the cause for the profession over the next 4 years. George Brown, an esteemed Ontario Paralegal and moderator of the Ontario Paralegal Network asked me to attend. Admittedly, it was an honor to be the personal guest of an esteemed colleague such as George; one whom many paralegals in Ontario look to as a visionary, leader, and difference maker.
I really had no expectations going in. I assumed I would learn more about the paralegals in Ontario and perhaps gain some additional insight into their positions and pressing issues, but that’s pretty much where my expectations ended. Prior to logging into the event, I did not realize how deeply this event would impact me as a paralegal.
After all, I’m not a Canadian – I’m an American. What is happening in Ontario doesn’t really affect me as a paralegal. Or does it? What they are doing one country away from where I live in Indianapolis, Indiana doesn’t really have anything to do with me or the way I approach my own career. Or does it? This discussion won’t change my view of the paralegal profession at all. Or will it? I’m here today to state that all eyes in the paralegal world need to turn to Ontario. What they are doing in that province does matter to every paralegal on the planet – and it matters more than you know.
I found myself sitting in my “writing room,” staring down at the rectangular screen on my iPad taking in a picturesque view of poise, professionalism, pride, and empowerment; traits emulated by professionals in all walks of the legal trenches, regardless of what path a person travels to work on a given day or the country in which he resides. It’s not that I didn’t expect to see people who embodied those traits at this event, but it was the depth and breadth of their pride, professionalism, and contagion of their empowerment that blew me away. It was the most inspired I’ve ever felt “sitting” in a room of paralegals, virtual or otherwise. Where they were from did not matter. Our differences did not matter. I was drawn into their world, all they were, and most importantly – what more they (and perhaps even I) could be.
The Ontario paralegals are working tirelessly as crusaders to take their standing and role within the legal profession to new heights. And when I say “their” profession, what I actually mean is “our” profession. They show up to work each day, many of them in their own thriving law practices, to do things that we (the U.S. paralegals and many others around the world) are simply unable to do. Through their own ambitious efforts and an unwavering resilience, they have worked to earn professional distinction, recognition, and autonomy for themselves, in their role as paralegals within the profession. They have the ability to represent their own clients directly in certain areas of law and in various tribunals. They are regulated by The Law Society of Upper Canada, the same entity that regulates Ontario’s lawyers. These dynamic paralegals often find themselves arguing points of law against opposing paralegals and attorneys in a court of law – something most of us do not possess the ability to do…at least not yet.
For perhaps the first time I realized WHY a majority of the conversations I’ve observed in the Ontario Paralegal Network on LinkedIn (a group I joined a “guest” member a few years ago) always seem so serious in tone. It’s as though they are embarking upon a mission of consequential magnitude. It’s because they are.
Are the paralegals in Ontario different than us? Yes and no. I have found the paralegals from Ontario with whom I’ve socialized online to be nothing short of warm, gracious, and kind. They are also professional, industrious, and seem to possess a laser-like focus on issues that matter to them. They take the paralegal profession and their growing role within it incredibly seriously. After sitting in on this event, I understand why. The table was lined with dignified candidates, each impeccably dressed, incredibly articulate, and fully-aware of who they were and what it is they stood for. Each passionate, dynamic advocates who possessed the will to win. Each champions of the profession. Collectively, a group of dedicated individuals fighting for a cause bigger than themselves.
They fight for change. They fight for growth. They fight for the respect of their fellow peers and attorneys, justice for clients, professional betterment, and a bright and promising future for all. They are part of an important movement in the history of paralegals, there, and everywhere else.
These paralegals earned their way into regulation and autonomy – things which did not previously exist. On some level (albeit professional), much like Susan B. Anthony courageously fighting for a woman’s right to vote or Martin Luther King, Jr., fighting for the rights of racial equality before it existed, these men and women in Ontario are entrenched in the midst of a professional movement; one which could drastically change the face of the paralegal world as we know it. Their steadfast desire for positive change is real. Their passion for what they do is evident. Their vision is bold and inspiring. They fight not only for themselves, but for every paralegal who will come up through the ranks behind them. Most importantly, they fight for something better – something many told them could never happen. And did.
So the next time you come across a paralegal from Ontario in person or online, take a moment to reach out and get to know him or her. Realize you are in the midst of someone who potentially is, or one day may be, working to make history – for himself, herself…and for all of us.
What will the paralegals in Ontario manage to accomplish in the years to come? Who knows – only time will tell. But if I were you, I’d turn my eyes toward Ontario. And I wouldn’t look away.
“Every great movement in the world starts with a tiny group of people who simply refuse to accept a situation.” – Richard Branson
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
A special thank you to George Brown for the invitation to attend as his personal guest. A salute to the newly-elected members of the Paralegal Standing Committee: Robert Burd, Cathy Corsetti, Michelle L. Haigh, Brian Lawrie, and Mariana Lippa. Congratulations! We look forward to following your professional journey.
Dear Readers – Whether you’re pro-regulation or against it and/or pro-autonomy or against it, one thing I hope each of us possesses in common is a strong sense of professional pride and by a burning desire to be more than what we are in this moment. Let’s find our commonalities. Let’s build bridges. Let’s continue to walk the path together. Let’s become the best we’ve ever been, and see where the future takes us.