Area of Law: Find a Lawyer or Paralegal
Answer Number: 864
Lawyers, paralegals, and notaries publicRegion: Ontario Answer Number: 864
The Law Society of Ontario is responsible for the education, licensing, supervision and disciplining of the province’s lawyers and paralegals to ensure the public is provided with competent and professional legal services. Although the permitted scope of practice for paralegals is limited in comparison to lawyers, in Ontario, both lawyers and paralegals are licensed, insured and qualified to help you with your legal needs. Some legal services can be provided by either a lawyer or a paralegal. In other situations, you must use a lawyer. Every lawyer and paralegal practising in Ontario must be a member of the Law Society. Lawyers and paralegals who provide legal services to the public are required to carry professional liability insurance.
In contrast to lawyers and paralegals, the authority of a notary public is simply to verify that “signatures, marks and copies of documents are true or genuine”. In Ontario, notaries public are governed by the Notaries Act. A lawyer can be a notary public, but not every notary public is a lawyer. Also, notaries public do not have to undergo special education or training. A notary public is not required to carry professional liability insurance as they do not provide legal advice.
Lawyers, generally must have completed an undergraduate degree as well as either a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B), a Juris Doctor (JD) or the equivalent degree approved by the Law Society. In addition, lawyers must complete a Licensing Program which includes examinations, and an Articling Program (working with a lawyer) or, a Law Practice Program (a combination of training and work placement).
Lawyers can help in all types of legal matters, including:
- Family matters, such as divorce, separation agreements and custody issues;
- Criminal matters at all levels of court;
- Civil litigation matters at all levels of court;
- Wills, powers of attorney and estate matters;
- Real estate matters, including buying and selling residential or commercial property; and
- Administrative law matters, including hearings before tribunals.
Currently, Ontario is the only province where paralegals are licensed and the profession is regulated as officers of the court by the Law Society. Paralegals must complete a legal services program approved by the Law Society as well as licensing examinations. Licensed paralegals can only perform legal services within a defined scope. They are authorized to represent clients in matters such as provincial offences (traffic tickets, etc.), landlord & tenant disputes, Small Claims Court, and minor, limited criminal matters. They are currently not permitted to represent clients in family court or Wills and estates. For a more complete description of what a paralegal can do, refer to topic 857 Do you need a lawyer or paralegal?
Typically, paralegals’ fees are often lower than those of lawyers. This makes them a good alternative for people with legal needs appropriate for a paralegal to handle, and who have difficulties affording lawyers’ fees.
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.
Notaries public and commissioners for taking affidavits
Along with the role of verifying signatures, marks and copies of documents (such as Wills and Powers of Attorneys) as being true or genuine, a notary public also has all the powers of a commissioner for taking affidavits. An affidavit is a written statement or declaration of facts that are sworn or affirmed to be true. A commissioner for taking affidavits may take affidavits as well as administer other oaths, affirmations or declarations inside or outside of Ontario, or subject to any limit placed upon them by the Attorney General.
In Ontario, individuals who are not lawyers who wish to become a notary public or commissioner for taking oaths, may do so by completing an application with the Ministry of the Attorney General. Applicants will only be considered if their employment requires the notarizing of documents in Ontario for:
- Senior government officials
- Ontario registered corporations engaged in international or inter-provincial trade and/or commerce
- Patent and trademark agents
- Head offices of national or provincial unions engaged in out-of-province business.
Visit the Ministry of the Attorney General for more information on becoming a notary public or commissioner for taking affidavits.
Contact the Law Society of Ontario if you wish to confirm that an Ontario lawyer or licensed paralegal is entitled to provide legal services. This will help you make an informed decision on whether the person you are thinking of hiring is right for you.
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