uLawPractice's editorial team recently sat down with Jamie Labonte, an Ontario paralegal.
Labonte got his start in the field of law in 2018 once he acquired his license. At first he split his time doing contract work for several Ottawa lawyers while running his own legal practice from his home in South Stormont, Ontario.
uLawPractice regularly interviews lawyers and paralegals to offer a glimpse into the Canadian legal landscape to better understand their perspectives and experiences working in the industry.
In his interview with uLaw, Labonte remarked on how he was first inspired to get into law, and how he's seen the face of the legal industry change during his time working as an advocate. Like many paralegals, Labonte entered the field of law later on in life. He holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Law, from Carleton University.
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: "Amazingly enough, I was working two jobs at the time. One was at an industrial plant and the other was driving Uber. I really enjoyed connecting to my passengers, driving people to their destinations, and would often be engaged by them in conversation."
"On a particular occasion I was taking a lawyer to his meeting, and I expressed my interest in law and that I minored in law in university. The lawyer said to me that some of the best practitioners started later in life and he suggested that I look into college courses in law. "
"That chance encounter stuck with me and in a moment of clarity, I enrolled in paralegal studies. It was if a light bulb illuminated inside me and I knew that this was what I wanted to do."
"I caught the advocacy bug and I have had it ever since. I was a top student in my program and was on the Dean’s List. I then took my Licensure exam and got it on the first try. It really is true that we are meant for certain work and when you find it, it seems to come easily."
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: "I have always been a debater, much to the chagrin of my wife and family and I have always had a profound hunger for both curiosity and justice. I crave to understand the “ratio” (the reason) behind legal decisions that I have heard of in the news."
"I also knew that there were a great many people that didn’t have someone with a strong voice who could advocate for them; perhaps because of limited means or simply because they didn’t know their own rights under the law."
"For this reason, I focus my practice in Small Claims contract law, Landlord Tenant law, as well as Provincial Offences Act matters including Highway Traffic offences. I also believe that a paralegal can thrive in the Tribunals if they can become masters of procedure in that arena"
"I truly feel that no matter how small a case, I am duty bound to advocate forcefully and passionately. Large or small, fighting for people’s rights makes me feel alive."
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: "Most practitioners will tell you that the Covid 19 Pandemic was an incredible strain on their practice. My experience is slightly different. When the lock-down happened and Courts suspended their operations, my wife’s health drastically took a turn for the worse and she required my full-time care at home. She had lost the power to walk due to a neuromuscular disorder called Stiff Person Syndrome."
"In a way, the shut-down allowed me to re-think my practice, disengage from assisting the lawyer colleagues in my professional circle, and focus on my own clients and building out my base. This meant a virtual practice from home."
"What started out as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to my work actually helped me evolve my firm into an efficient and streamlined machine. This is also when I enlisted the help of uLaw to manage my practice and it has been invaluable in helping me scale up my business."
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?
A: "Probably the most influential legal adjustment has been the suspension of in-person services during lock-down as well as the move to virtual hearings. It has been a learning curve for everyone but I have had some of my best legal outcomes from virtual hearings and I really enjoy them. It is my hope that there is no going back."
Q: Can you tell us about a satisfying moment you've had during your legal career?
A: "I remember a case with a client who, as a result of their newly acquired disability, was subject to bias and what I viewed as an unjust contract law claim against her."
"It appeared to be an unfortunate situation where the law was not yet mature enough to offer justice for my client and there was a very real danger that my client would 'fall through the cracks in the system' and suffer a harsh monetary judgement. To compound matters, opposing counsel was a veteran lawyer and that was somewhat intimidating, but my strong sense of my client’s moral and ethical rights drove me to doggedly search for a way forward."
"I was able to find compelling case law that fit the fact situation of my client, and this severely undermined the Plaintiff’s confidence in their case. As a result, we were able to secure a negotiated settlement that all parties could be happy with. I really feel that it was one of my best moments as an advocate."
"People think that greatness is something to witness at trial but sometimes the greatest achievements come before you ever get to a hearing or trial."
Q: How has the practice of law shifted or changed over the time you've been a practitioner? Where do you see this direction going in the future?
A: "When I started my practice, Small Claims was limited to monetary amounts of $25,000 and under. Now Small Claims monetary jurisdiction is now up to $35,000 and that means a lot of would-be plaintiffs opt to litigate in Small Claims instead of the Superior Courts, especially where the legal costs in Superior Court are prohibitive"
"This has opened up the paralegal scope of practice to a lot more potential cases. The opposing counsel I face are many times lawyers. I used to be intimidated by this but not so much any more."
"I have learned that you just need to have confidence in the merits of your case, and in yourself, and you have to search hard for the answer. A great legal mind shared the mantra that there are no losing cases; merely cases you haven’t found your argument for yet. So far, that philosophy has been correct for me."
"In terms of what the future holds for the profession, my prediction is that paralegal licensees will become increasingly relevant due to the need for competent and affordable advocates. Lawyer opinions about us is shifting and they are seeing us increasingly as peers and valuable resources and not just glorified law clerks."
"In the past, the law was more ornate and cumbersome and the interpretation of statute and contracts appeared to a lay person something akin to reading tea leaves. I believe that the law will become increasingly plain-spoken in both legislation and in pleadings and this will serve to make it more accessible for everyone. It is my hope that this changes as statute and case law emerges in the 21st century."
Contact details for Jamie Labonte can be found by visiting the website of his firm, Labonte Paralegal Services
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