The most recent job outlook for paralegals, published by Employment Ontario in 2009, noted that paralegals who work full-time tend to earn about $45,000 annually, and predicted good job growth. As laws constantly change, and paralegals gradually enter retirement, opportunities in this field should continue to grow for people who have the qualities you need to succeed.
1. Communication and research skills
Paralegals help people access the justice system by providing advice, drafting documents and conducting legal research. This work requires the ability to navigate databases, track down key documents, and communicate clearly with clients and colleagues.
Paralegals often work in the office of a lawyer or a notary, and may represent clients in contexts such as Immigration and Refugee Board hearings, cases involving provincial law, certain criminal matters, and small-claims court. Constant contact with legal professionals like judges and lawyers means you need to be able to communicate with clarity and precision about technical matters.
One of the most important functions of a paralegal is document writing. Your writing should not only be clear and concise, but also persuasive. It needs to be backed up by solid research – that means you should have a penchant for investigation and the ability to sift through complex legal documents.
Since you are usually working as part of a group – conducting research for court battle, for example – communication skills are essential for the teamwork that this profession requires.
Ontario is one of the few jurisdictions where all paralegals must have completed an accredited training program. If you have completed training in a non-accredited program, you may be eligible for advance standing in one of the programs certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
In Toronto, Cestar College offers an accredited paralegal program. This 1,100 hour program includes a field placement of 120 hours, one of the requirements for professional training.
3. “Be of Good Character”
The Law Society may require information or documents that attest to the “good character” of a potential paralegal. Examples includes having no criminal convictions, and not being subject to any criminal proceedings.
Other factors that could prevent you from meeting this criteria include ever having been suspended or expelled from a university or college, or being disqualified from another professional organization. The complete list of criteria is available on the Law Society’s website.
For more information on how to pursue your path towards a career as a paralegal, contact Cestar College in Toronto.