The Regulation of Paralegals in Ontario: Increased Access to Justice?

The legal profession throughout most of Canada enjoys the privilege of self-regulation and a (purported) monopoly over legal practice. In Ontario, the Law Society must regulate so as to facilitate access to justice and protect the public interest. Critics argue that self-regulation is anti-competitive it allows the profession to control the market for legal services, increasing the cost of services and restricting access to them and serves professional interests over the public interest. The Ontario government introduced paralegal regulation to enhance access to justice. Regulation would increase consumer choice and the competence and affordability of non-lawyer legal service providers. The Law Society agreed to regulate paralegals in the public interest. After decades of discord between lawyers and non-lawyers, paralegal regulation was implemented in 2006. Many were opposed to lawyers regulating competitors. For some, it was akin to having the fox watch over the chickens. It also confounded self-regulation the legal profession now regulating itself and others. Paralegals are licensed to provide legal services directly to the public independent of lawyers but they are regulated by lawyers.

The Law Society has declared paralegal regulation a success and itself the right choice of regulator. This dissertation explores whether paralegal regulation has increased access to justice, as the government promised and Law Society claims. It examines the history of the legal profession and Law Society in Ontario and the events leading to paralegal regulation. Using both market control and the cultural history of the legal profession as theoretical underpinnings, and through the lens of access to justice, this dissertation analyzes the Law Societys exercise of regulatory authority over paralegals and undertakes empirical research of paralegal representatives at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal. This dissertation concludes that paralegal regulation has done little to increase access to justice and that self-regulation and the Law Societys manner of regulating are barriers to increased access to justice.

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