When Jon Sparling was about to enter law school, he says it wasn't easy deciding which area he was going to focus on. But at the same time, the (then) Law Society of Upper Canada was making the unprecedented move to begin regulating the paralegal profession.
In this week's uLaw Spot Light series, our team sat down with Sparling to get a sense for how his practice has shaped up over the past 17 years that he's worked in law firms. Sparling has worked as a clerk through much of university until eventually becoming licenced by the Law Society in 2011.
Q: At what point in time in your life did you decide to pursue the field of law? Why did you make such a decision?
A: "It seems like law has appealed to me my whole life. The only question was, 'in which capacity?'"
Q: What were your reasons for becoming the legal practitioner who you are today? Which areas of the law do you focus on. Are there any trends that you've noticed during your practice?
A: "Choosing an area of law was a real problem for me. I had finished undergrad, written the LSAT, and was ready to send my law school applications-- and then I heard the Law Society was going to regulate paralegals. At this point, "Paralegal" was a new word to me but one look at the scope of practice and I knew it was what I was looking for. I'm the son of a landlord/contractor, and I am now a landlord myself. I have spent most of my life watching contract disputes, tenancies begin and end, houses built and sold. With a Small Claims court limit of $35,000.00, and the Landlord and Tenant Board, this license unifies two of my skill sets in a way I had not expected."
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced through your career--where it was extremely difficult for you, professionally, and perhaps daunting? Can you explain your challenges and how you conquered them?
A: I am a sole practitioner. I tell anyone thinking about going into business for themselves to prepare because the first few years are lean. There were years of focus on finishing school, then passing the licensing exam, and once the insurance is paid you realize you have two much bigger problems than you thought: First, the phone isn't ringing. Everyone has this problem, and everyone finds their own way to solve it. Some take out a loan and buy a billboard, others buy google banner adverts. "
"The second problem was more unexpected, once people find you, how do you get them to pay you? To give you an idea of what I mean, during my first three years in practice, I collected somewhere around 25% of my total billings. Other than insisting on trust deposits before starting work, the best thing I did was sign up for uLaw in 2013. Unexpectedly for someone that was just looking for book keeping software, what it really give me was a system to be accountable to for my billing. It encouraged me to document phone calls more thoroughly, and reminded me to bill for them."
"The last thing I will say is about note keeping. This is a business that relies heavily on memory, but covid highlighted again just how important thorough notes really are."
"Everyone seems to have heard the story about the "courts are closed, now what?" moments from March of 2020. My contribution is about a two day trial. In February 2020, the Plaintiff concluded evidence in chief. As of June 2022 we have still not had day two. If it were not for my notes, I don't know how I could expect to remember enough to complete the hearing."
Q: Can you remark on any particular court cases and/or regulatory changes/shifts which you've encountered and had to work around while working in the field of law?
"Efrach v Cherishome Living, 2015 ONSC 472. This case created a meaningful legislative gap between the Small Claims Court and the Landlord and Tenant Board. At the time, Landlords could not apply to the board if the tenants were no longer in possession of the unit and the common practice was to bring a claim in the small claims court for the rent arrears or damages."
"Very broadly, in Efrach, the court focused on the provision of the Residential Tenancies Act that gave the Landlord and Board exclusive jurisdiction over all issues covered by the act. The test applied was from Mackie v Toronto, 2010 ONSC 3820, and relied on a determination of the essential character of the dispute. The idea being, if that dispute was one that was otherwise covered by the Residential Tenancies Act, the Small Claims court would not keep concurrent jurisdiction with the Board over it. It wasn't until 2020 or 2021 that the L10 form was made available to allow landlords to bring a claim against former tenants."
Q: Please highlight some of the most satisfying moments in this career? Without being too specific (client confidentiality, etc) can you give some examples of momentous occasions in your career and describe their significance?
A: "I would not describe it as satisfying, but my first thought goes to my first eviction hearing for illegal activity."
"The landlord and tenant lived in an over-under duplex and the tenant could be charitably described as someone I would not want to share a driveway with. One night, the tenant thinks the landlord is being too loud (at 5:30 during Sunday dinner) and starts screaming a chain of profanity and threats at the landlord. At first they were audible through the furnace ducting, but the tenant came upstairs to -- let's say, make sure they were heard. The landlord had kept notes from the evening, with direct quotes."
"When I heard your question, I immediately imagined myself standing in that hearing room again. I was sweating at the thought, but finally had to ask the tenant (now witness): 'Ma'am, is it true that at [date, time, place] you said, and I quote ...' The sensation of repeating those quotes, straight face, in my best suit, in 'court' is one that will never leave me."
Q: How do you think the legal profession will change in the next 10 years?
A: "I have not found there to be many changes within the industry in the last decade-- as long as you don't count covid-19 wait times/closures or the ability to commission a document by video."
"The problems, their negotiations, the applications, they are all shockingly consistent year over year. In some ways, I find a comfort in that consistency. It was certainly enough for me to start a blog with frequently asked questions. In the years to come, I hope to see technology offer some practical solutions for some appearances."
"I'm less partial to hearings with witnesses appearing by video for mostly practical reasons, but I've had great experiences with Small Claims video settlement conferences. If we saw more technology deployed to take some burden off of physical court houses, giving them more resources to work with day-to-day, we would all benefit. "
Jon Sparling runs his own practice, www.windsorparalegal.com