Area of Law: Find a Lawyer or Paralegal
Answer # 857
Do you need a lawyer or paralegal?Region: Ontario Answer # 857
A lawyer can help you structure your affairs so that you accomplish your goals. Generally, you should get a lawyer’s opinion and advice if you have a legal question, a plan, or a problem. A lawyer can help you even if you have a short question to ask or a small task to do. You do not have to hire a lawyer for an extended period and you do not have to wait until you have a problem to contact a lawyer. A lawyer can provide a legal opinion about your options in a particular situation, negotiate with other people for you, and advise you about your legal rights and responsibilities.
Type of situations where a lawyer can help you
A lawyer can provide valuable information and assistance in many situations, such as if you are starting or expanding a business, if you have a business relationship that you want to clearly define, if you need to prepare a will, or if you need advice about tax planning. A lawyer can advise you about the legal consequences of entering into a relationship with someone, such as marriage or a business partnership. A lawyer can help you if you plan to buy or sell a house.
You should definitely contact a lawyer if your marriage is ending, if someone’s mistake causes an accident, if you have been charged with a crime, if you lose your job unfairly, or if a member of your family dies. You should also contact a lawyer if you are involved in a lawsuit or if you do not feel comfortable with the paperwork that someone wants you to sign.
Type of situations where a paralegal can help you
Paralegals in Ontario are licensed by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO). They are only permitted to provide legal services and represent individuals in the following areas:
- Small Claims Court litigation (up-to $35,000)
- Traffic and other offences under the Provincial Offences Act, which are heard in the Ontario Court of Justice
- Statutory Accident Benefits (SAB) claims covered under the Insurance Act, for minor injuries due to motor vehicle accidents
- Hearings before administrative tribunals and boards (including the Landlord and Tenant Board, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, Social Benefits Tribunal, Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, and the Immigration and Refugee Board)
- Certain criminal law matters including:
- Criminal harassment
- Theft under $5,000
- Breaches of court orders
- Four criminal driving offences: Dangerous Driving, Failure to Stop after Accident, Flight from a Police Officer, and Operation while Prohibited
Criminal Code offences
Previously, paralegals were restricted to representing individuals on criminal summary conviction offences where the maximum penalty did not exceed six months’ imprisonment or a $5,000 fine. Changes to the Criminal Code amended the summary conviction punishment of six months to two years less a day for most less serious charges. Because of this, the Law Society has authorized paralegals to represent individuals in summary conviction cases with a maximum penalty of greater than six month’s imprisonment. More information and a full list of permitted Criminal Code conviction offences where a regulated paralegal can represent an individual is available from the Law Society.
When representing a client in any of the authorized areas, a licensed paralegal can provide the following legal services:
- Give legal advice concerning legal interests, rights or responsibilities with respect to a proceeding or the subject matter of a proceeding,
- Draft or assist with drafting documents for use in a proceeding, and
- Negotiate on behalf of a person who is a party to a proceeding.
What can’t paralegals do?
Paralegals are not permitted to appear in Family Court. Other than under the supervision of a lawyer, paralegals are also not allowed to provide legal services that only a lawyer may provide, such as drafting wills, handling real estate transactions, and representing clients in serious criminal matters
The Ontario Paralegal Association (OPA) is the largest professional association of licensed paralegals in Ontario. It’s mandate is to represent the interests of paralegals throughout the Province. To find out more, or to become a member, visit the OPA website.
Some legal situations you can handle yourself
Not all legal situations require the assistance of a lawyer or a paralegal. For example, you can probably go to traffic court, go to Small Claims Court, or negotiate a simple apartment lease on your own. But if the situation becomes more complicated, or the value of a lawsuit is significant it is advisable to contact a lawyer or paralegal for assistance or advice.
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