I am Vladimir Reznik, and I am running for paralegal bencher of the Law Society of Ontario in the 2023 election.
Running on a platform of being a candidate who makes sense.
In my first few videos, I addressed the subject of raising paralegal competence and expansion of paralegal scope in the interest of advancing access to justice.
But public interest is not well served by a piecemeal approach to competence, like the FLSP, or like this recent change of adding ten extra hours to some college courses. A reactive Band-Aid approach does not support a competent, confident, and prosperous paralegal profession the public needs.
Public interest is best served by first taking a holistic birds-eye view on the paralegal profession as a whole. And from that view, 15 years into regulation, it appears we are facing a crisis of paralegal retention to the magnitude of a threat of extinction.
Based on the numbers from the recent Law Society annual reports, the ratio of practicing to non-practicing lawyers is over two to one, whereas the same ratio for paralegals is reversed, for every one practicing paralegal, there are two who are not providing legal services.
Even more alarming is how this disparity has grown year-over-year. Roughly 67 per cent of all lawyers and only 40 per cent of all licensed paralegals practiced in 2018. By 2021 that percentage improved for lawyers going above 71 per cent, and dropped for paralegals going from 40 to almost 36 per cent.
But that’s not even the whole story. Many more paralegals leave the field as compared to lawyers. According to the last four available annual reports, more than 3,800 new paralegal licences have been issued between 2018 and 2021 inclusive, but the total increase in paralegal members was only a little over 1,600. That means for every ten new licensees added, six paralegals have left the building.
And, an even more important metric, the net number of paralegals providing legal services increased by a mere 273 licensees over the same four-year period. Less than 70 new functioning paralegals per year are being added to the profession across the entire province.
By comparison, the numbers of practicing lawyers increase by a staggering margin. Over the same period of four years, every 100 new lawyer licensees resulted in a net increase of approximately 53 new practicing lawyers, but for every 100 newly licensed paralegals, only a net of 7 additional paralegals began providing legal services.
What can possibly explain such a dismal failure of paralegal retention? Well, isn’t there a fundamental disconnect between the licensing requirements and skills actually needed for a paralegal licensee to prosper in the field?
The fact that paralegals have not been getting adequate training is no longer a shocking revelation. Disappointed, some default to legal secretaries’ roles, others go to law schools.
And I am not convinced that the decision to add ten mandatory hours to a few courses like advocacy, or torts and contracts will have any measurable impact. Not to mention most colleges are already exceeding that requirement anyway. A perfect example of the Paralegal Standing Committee merely catching up to the reality, instead a forward-looking leadership.
I am also not convinced that doubling mandatory placement hours could do the trick. Besides, paralegal students and colleges are already struggling to find placement as it is. The Paralegal Standing Committee itself acknowledged in its report. It acknowledged that some placement providers would be opting out of the program leaving even fewer opportunities for colleges and students to meet this new requirement. They acknowledged it, and then they passed it.
Some of my colleagues especially those who have been in the field since the 90s, would go as far as to suggest that the design of the education model adopted 15 years ago was to fail the paralegal experiment. I don’t think we have any direct evidence to go that far, but certainly the effect of those initial paralegal licensing standards is that they failed to turn paralegals into a competent and prosperous legal profession. It is my position that a Band-Aid approach of small quantitative changes to the existing failing model is not the solution.
But what if we step out of the box and see how we can solve several problems in a qualitative and holistic approach?
In this video, I’ll just give you one example.
Many regulated and unregulated professions use clinical approach to giving their students practical skills needed in the field.
It begins with guided observation practicum where students watch a professional performing essential duties of that occupation. Then students are incrementally graduated into internships and co-op placements. So instead of making a Micky Mouse version of the lawyer articling program, which is ridden with its own problems, what if we worked together with Legal Aid and the Ministry of Colleges and created a framework to allow every college including Private Career Colleges to operate a legal clinic funded by Legal Aid or by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, or jointly by both?
– We would add value to Private Career Colleges and help them alleviate the anti-competitive barriers they face;
– No one would complain that paralegal money was going to Legal Aid anymore;
– Every paralegal student would be guaranteed a placement, without removing their option of finding their own;
– Even new paralegals could come back for an opportunity to work on their skills with mentorship and oversight;
– The disadvantaged and the underprivileged communities would be better serviced through student clinics, advancing access to justice for those who need it the most and can least afford it;
– It would open opportunities for those of us who wish to come in and give back by volunteering as mentors in a guided environment, and potentially identify and head hunt our own future associates;
– It would allow for better oversight in placement, the placement coordinators would not have to worry whether their students are being trained on operating a coffee maker anymore;
– It would facilitate better on-campus engagement and a richer educational experience;
– It would create a more competent, confident paralegal profession.
Wouldn’t it be a gift that would just keep on giving?
And I know I am not entirely delusional, because Osgoode Hall Law School has been providing clinical opportunities for their law students for years. And that’s why it’s one of the best law schools in Canada.
And that is just one example, to show that an innovative holistic approach and out-of-the-box fresh perspectives are needed to advance access to justice by strengthening the paralegal profession at its foundation. And that’s what good governance of the Law Society should be about.
Of course, it’s going to need more research and evidence-based meticulous planning, commitment to a pro-active two-way engagement with licensees, colleges, and associations. And some of my ideas might not work. I am not looking to prove myself right, I am only seeking the opportunity to give back by governing in public interest, building a confident, competent, and prosperous paralegal profession. A paralegal profession best able to contribute to access to justice.
Thank you again for taking the time to reflect on these matters with me.