Over the course of the past several videos, I addressed the subject of expansion of paralegal competence, and I addressed the issues of expansion of scope exhaustively from many different angles.
But public interest isn’t only served through raising competence and expansion of paralegal scope. Public interest is also served by ensuring efficient and responsible fiscal governance of the legal professions.
It is my position that a paralegal who is financially overwhelmed cannot successfully contribute to access to justice. And this is why looking at fees and how those dollars are spent is also a big part of my platform.
The Law Society fees are steep. They are tolerable by some, but can constitute barriers to entry and barriers to practice for many categories and disadvantaged groups of licensees.
When elected a bencher, I will stand for protecting the paralegal profession from unfair financial burdens and barriers to providing legal services.
And on that basis, I support reforming the Law Society fee structure for paralegals.
I will stand to reform our fees to ensure that they are proportionate to paralegal scope and means as compared to lawyers.
There is an enormous discrepancy between earning potential of lawyers compared to that of paralegals.
According to the Law Society Fee Schedule, a new call, right out of law school with less than a year at the Bar is suggested to bill $165 an hour.
Compare this to paralegals who often have difficulties finding employment on a pay scale of 20 to 25 dollars an hour coming out of college.
Even earnings of senior paralegals represent only a fraction of revenues drawn by senior lawyers. Yet, paralegal fees are more than half of what the lawyers pay.
It is my view that the Law Society fee levied on paralegals are too high.
They are simply unaffordable for many paralegals who are then forced to abandon their dream of starting, or continuing to run their own firm.
Unlike sole practitioner lawyers, many paralegals who become financially overwhelmed, settle for legal secretary’s role instead of becoming financially independent in their own business.
But paralegal profession was not created as a glorified version of a legal assistant.
In my view, that in addition to competence factors I addressed before, the Law Society fee policy on paralegals is likely another significant contributing cause to the growing trend of paralegals opting not to provide legal services.
It is also my position that while the fees affect all paralegals, they especially and disproportionately affect those who are new in the business and those who come from, or who serve the disadvantaged and the underprivileged communities.
Paralegal profession has a noble role in the Justice community to serve the disadvantaged and the underprivileged.
I am not talking about the small claims at maximum limits, I am not talking about some of the more lucrative tribunal work, or criminal matters. I am talking about the segments that fall upon the paralegal market as being underserviced by members of the Bar.
And I commend those lawyers who do pro bono work, and thankfully there is a number of them. But largely and generally speaking it falls upon the paralegal market to serve those clients who often can’t even afford to pay a fair rate for our work.
I am talking about serving clients who come from low-income communities, the disabled, the elderly, especially those who come from the backgrounds of inequalities affecting the racialized, ethnic, and indigenous communities. And even outside the narrow diversity groups, across-the-board, tenants trying to challenge unlawful actions of their landlords; employees who face unfair practices at workplaces. I am talking about denial of social benefits cases. Students who face denial of accommodation at institutions that are intolerant to their health or religious needs. I personally carry files in this category, and I do them for students at very reduced rates.
Those are the cases where access to justice matters most. They come to the paralegal market seeking competent but low-cost legal services.
Generally, they do not go to lawyers, they come to us. As a result, paralegals providing competent and low-cost services end up themselves being one of the lowest income segments in the Justice sector.
And this is why when elected a bencher, not only will I stand for fiscal responsibility, I will stand to balance fiscal responsibility with fiscal equity. I am putting forward my position that levying current levels of fees on paralegals is inequitable and contrary to public interest.
If we want paralegals to continue to follow their calling, to succeed in being the vehicle of access to justice for those who need it the most, we need to reduce the paralegal fees, we need to offer even greater fee reductions and fee deferral programs for paralegals who are now unable to meet the financial burdens of their practice either because of the clientele they have chosen to serve, or due to human rights considerations as a matter of equity and inclusion.
In my next video I will share exactly what I mean when I say human rights considerations, and I will share my vision for equitable reform of the Law Society fee structure.