Becoming a paralegal is one of the alternative careers one can pursue within the legal field aside from being a lawyer. In the province of Ontario, Canada, the paralegal profession has its own licensing process and educational requirements. If you are considering entering a paralegal program, you must think not only about the eligibility criteria for the education component of the program but also the licensing requirements.
Colleges in Ontario that offer paralegal programs usually require candidates to have an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) or the equivalent. If the program is at degree level, the requirement is six grade 12 U or M level credits in addition to the OSSD. There are generally three types of programs available: paralegal certificates; paralegal diplomas, and paralegal degrees.
Paralegal certificates are designed primarily for people who are already employed in the legal field. These programs are often offered on weekends, evenings, or online. Graduate certificates usually require tertiary level education. They can be completed in one year.
This is also designed for working people, but they may have already completed some post-secondary coursework. The diploma takes two years to complete.
This is a four year program and the eligibility criteria would usually be that of a typical college program. Professional experience, post-secondary coursework, or a combination of both would be an advantage. However, mandatory internships are part of the program which would benefit those with no work experience.
Whatever education program you choose, it must adequately prepare you for the licensing examinations (if that is your aspiration). The program you graduate from must be an accredited institution that meets the requirements of the Law Society of Upper Canada (the licensing body). Also, there are other requirements you need to meet, such as being of “good character.” If you have any criminal background or have been subject to court proceedings or disciplinary action, you may be required to submit information on this in the application process.
If you practised as a paralegal outside of Canada, you may still be required to pass the licensing examination in Ontario. However you should contact the Law Society of Upper Canada for details on how to become licensed in Ontario. You may also be required to complete coursework at one of the accredited schools. Qualified candidates may enter a bridge training program, which is specially designed for workers with foreign credentials.