Because the Ontario government regulates paralegals, the method in which a person can become one is far more constrained and particular than that of other provinces in Canada.
In 2007 the provincial government passed legislation which clearly outlines the educational components of becoming a paralegal, as well as the responsibilities which must be undertaken before an individual can act as one.
The result of such regulation is that the profession has invariably become more difficult and onerous to enter. It’s harder and more time consuming to become a regulated and accredited paralegal, but the benefits are increasingly outweighing the drawbacks as paralegals continue to gain status in Ontario courts.
If you’re still reading this, maybe you’re considering jumping into one of Canada’s fastest growing professions. Even if you’ve had a vastly different background in other careers, you’ll be surprised to know that you’re not alone.
Back to school
The first step to becoming a paralegal is to complete an accredited education program. Thankfully there are many providers all across Ontario for you to choose from, with varying levels of intensity depending on what you’re looking for.
Perhaps the most direct path to obtaining the educational components necessary to become a paralegal is to pursue a certificate. Students who pursue paralegal certificates can expect to study materials directly related to paralegal education without any added educational components. The whole process for a certificate takes about one year. In this way, it’s a fantastic “shortcut” to becoming a paralegal, which fits in nicely with adults who already have work or home commitments.
The downside to such qualification is that it may not adequately prepare you to practice independently, and as a result, many paralegals by their nature work as assistants to lawyers.
Similarly to the certificate, paralegal programs that offer diplomas do not include general education requirements, and thus are geared mostly for people who already have some background education and experience in the legal field.
Pursuing a diploma takes twice as long, and most programs take about two years to complete. The added benefit of this route is that it’s easier to begin working as an independent paralegal. So if you’re a self-starter who is entrepreneurially-minded, this might be the right path for you.
The Paralegal Degree
For all those heavy hitters out there, there’s also the 4-year paralegal degree, which prepares students from all components, A-to-Z of becoming a paralegal, with a lot of extra “general coursework” to prepare students for other areas of focus at a college/university level.
This degree takes a full four years to finish, and it includes general education in addition to paralegal studies. Students who pursue this type of education can expect to have a deeper, applied knowledge to various areas of the law that paralegals might be working in in the future, such as transportation, and perhaps in the future, even family law.
Of good character…
Once you are adequately educated, prospective paralegal students must submit a statement of good character in order to be accepted into the Law Society of Ontario.
The application itself covers various subjects and areas the Law Society wants to scrutinize to determine whether an applicant should be given a licence to practice law in Ontario.
The statement itself is more akin to a list of questions. Red flags are raised whenever a prospective licensees answers any of the questions in the affirmative.
While not necessarily precluding an exclusion from the process, answers in the affirmative require further questioning and clarification about an applicant’s history.
Now that you’ve made it this far, the next most obvious step is to pay some money to Ontario’s bureaucracy. Anyone wishing to become a paralegal in Ontario must pay $160.
Write the exam, and pass the exam
Make sure you’re ready for this…
The paralegal exam in Ontario is a self study open book multiple choice exam. And you have seven hours to complete it.
The only people allowed to sit during these exams must be successful graduates from accredited paralegal programs in Ontario, and that includes a 120 hour placement in a real world setting.
And that’s not all: the test itself costs $1,075. Thankfully it comes with study materials to prepare for the test.
The examination will be testing applicants for competency and knowledge revolving around the most critical components and legal procedures fulfilled by paralegals.
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