Before We Get Started
Before we break down how to become a paralegal in Ontario, we should outline the role of a paralegal and determine if it is the right career path for you.
If you want to learn what goes into a paralegal career and the differences between a paralegal and a lawyer, check out our previous blog post, “Paralegal vs. Lawyer – what is the difference?”
Typically, working under the supervision of an attorney, paralegals help assist in the paperwork preparation of law cases and reports. The job includes:
- Legal research
- Drafting legal documents
- Conducting client interviews
- Locating witnesses
- Conducting witness interviews
A licensed paralegal is also authorized to provide legal advice and represent clients in areas of the law such as:
- Small Claims Court: civil suits worth less than $25,000.
- Provincial Offences: quasi-criminal cases in the Ontario Court of Justice under the Provincial Offences Act.
- Summary Convictions: under the Criminal Code where the maximum penalty is no longer than 6 months in prison.
- Administrative Tribunals: representation before various administrative tribunals, including the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, and the Financial Services Commission.
- Refugee & Immigration: matters falling under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Additionally, a paralegal’s career isn’t confined to undertaking legal research in law offices, legal departments, or private law firms. There are numerous valuable skills learned as a paralegal that can be applied to many different corporations and organizations.
More importantly, the skills you learn as a paralegal can be applied to various career paths for those who want to explore more options. Here are four of them:
- Legal Assistants/Secretaries
- Litigation Paralegal
- Library Technician
- Legal Job Recruiter
Want to learn more about the paralegal career? Check out our more recent blog post, “What is a Paralegal? Career paths, average salaries & more!”
Now that you know what a paralegal is and the associated career paths, let’s dive in to learn how to become a paralegal in Ontario.
Becoming a Paralegal in Ontario
To become a paralegal in Ontario, one must go through specific steps that are different from any other province in Canada.
This is because the provincial government of Ontario passed legislation in May of 2007 to clearly outline and define the responsibilities and educational requirements of a paralegal – thereby making it a fully accredited and regulated practicing law profession.
Whilst this means that the requirements to become a paralegal will take time and effort, the rewards are significant when it comes to negotiating your salary and professional duties in the field.
Without further ado, let’s go through everything you need to know and the steps you need to take to join the paralegal profession in Ontario!
Is It Worth Pursuing a Paralegal Career in Ontario?
As with most legal professionals, paralegals in Ontario are able to enjoy numerous career benefits – such as job security, a competitive salary, and extensive options regarding where and how to work.
There will always be jobs for legal professionals in an ever-increasingly litigious society.
But, due to rising legal costs and a limited number of lawyers and law firms, corporations, hospitals, banks, and the like are turning to paralegals. As such, the demand for paralegals is estimated to increase up to 25% by the year 2024, meaning paralegal jobs are and will be in high demand.
PARALEGAL SALARY IN ONTARIO
The average salary for a paralegal in Ontario is $55,000 per year.
This, of course, is just the average amount. Other factors like level of experience, physical location, the employer, the particular area of law to be practiced (i.e. criminal law, corporate law, etc.), and the current demand all contribute to the paralegal’s salary.
Moreover, this amount may not yet reflect overtime hours (which are common in law firms), bonuses, commissions, and the like. If you’re interested to learn more about how much paralegals make in Ontario, check out our post, “What is the Average Salary of a Paralegal?”
It’s true that paralegals are an essential part of every law firm. Without them, law firms wouldn’t be as efficient and as thorough with everything they need to get done.
This, however, doesn’t mean that paralegals are restricted to law firms; they can also work in other environments, such as corporations, hospitals, banks, insurance companies, and so on.
Paralegals also have the option to freelance on the side or be independent contractors – which is a great way to broaden one’s network while also enjoying freedom and flexibility.
Another important thing to consider is that, unlike other provinces, Ontario offers a broader scope of practice for paralegals. Here, paralegals are fully permitted to practice law within certain limitations. They may represent clients accused of small claims, minor provincial offences, and labour law issues.
Considering that one does not need a degree to enjoy all of the above job benefits, becoming a paralegal is truly rewarding for anyone seeking to establish themselves in the legal field as quickly as possible.
Now, let’s talk about the steps you need to take to become a paralegal.
Step 1 – Meet All the Educational Requirements
There are several educational options to choose from when starting your journey to becoming a paralegal, with different accredited institutions offering paralegal programs of varying durations.
For standard paralegal programs, getting a degree will take 4 years. But, if you want to opt for accelerated learning, there are two options: getting a graduate certificate or getting a diploma.
In some cases, the shorter graduate certificate programs will suffice. In Ontario, a graduate certificate will generally allow you to practice as a legal assistant. This is because the paralegal field is quite competitive in Ontario.
So, to get the added advantage of broad and thorough education and the opportunities that come with it, many opt to get a diploma from a paralegal education program that is accredited by the Law Society of Ontario.
This kind of program usually takes two years to complete and is designed for individuals who have completed secondary education.
Here at Cestar College, we offer a comprehensive, accredited Paralegal Training Program that spans 4 semesters and is taught by experienced lawyers and paralegals. The 1,100 hours of training, which includes an immersive internship (i.e. field placement), prepares aspiring paralegals with the skills and knowledge that they need to succeed in the profession.
Step 2 – Submit An Application for the Paralegal Licensing Exam and Settle the Needed Fees For the Application
After completing the needed education and training, the licensing process begins.
The entire licensing process must be completed within three licensing years according to the schedule set out by the Law Society of Ontario. Currently, the licensing process year runs from June 1 to May 31 of the following year. Also, the deadline to apply is at the start of December of the previous year.
So, let’s talk more about the licensing process. The first requirement to be eligible for the licensing exam is the individual’s official transcript. The issuing institution must be listed among the accredited institutions, and the program must include 120 hours of on-the-job training through placement in a real-world legal setting (i.e. internship.) The transcript is sent directly by the issuing institution to the licensing process.
Also, the application itself, along with the needed application fees, must be settled.
The application is submitted online. You can get started by going to the Paralegal Licensing Process page on the Law Society of Ontario’s website. To view the most updated application fees, please refer to the Paralegal Fees Schedule page.
Step 3 – Settle the Fees for the Exam Proper and Pass the Paralegal Licensing Exam
Aspiring paralegals must go through the self-study, open-book, seven-hour, multiple-choice Paralegal Licensing Exam.
The purpose of this exam is to assess if an aspiring paralegal, who has completed the required training, possesses entry-level competencies related to the profession – so that they may be able to provide effective and ethical legal services.
Currently, a fee of $1,075 must be paid in order to sit the exam. To view the most updated fees for applications, please refer to the Paralegal Fees Schedule page.
The fee covers study materials that the LSO will provide to help prepare for the test. Students can mark up their study materials to help them in any way they see fit for the open-book exam but must forfeit them upon finishing the exam.
After passing the exam, one is only a few small steps away from obtaining the P1 (Paralegal) License and joining the legal industry.
Step 4 – Be Deemed to Be of Good Character
The Law Society Act requires that an aspiring paralegal is of good character.
The purpose of this is to protect the public and maintain high ethical standards within the profession. Currently, there is no fee for this part of the licensing process.
The Law Society of Ontario assesses good character by allowing the applicant to answer questions that assist them in determining if the applicant is of good character. The questions will also allow the applicant to self-report conduct or circumstances that might raise issues about their character.
Any affirmative responses will require detailed documentation surrounding them, but it does not necessarily mean an application will be rejected.
Step 5 – Get your P1 (Paralegal) License
Once all the requirements from the previous steps are settled (i.e. all fees are paid, the examination is passed, and good character is deemed in the applicant), the aspiring paralegal is able to apply for the P1 (Paralegal) License.
This license is the actual legal document that allows you to be a practicing paralegal in Ontario and currently costs $165. To view the most updated application fees, please refer to the Paralegal Fees Schedule page.
Once the application has been received and approved, your P1 License will be mailed to you approximately two weeks later and include your Law Society Paralegal member number.
Cestar’s Paralegal Program
I completed the paralegal program at Cestar College this year. The staff and faculty were all very helpful and knowledgeable. Instructors with real-world experience that they shared with the students. I feel that Cestar has given me the tools required to start my own practice with confidence. Recommended. – Joe Behar
By applying to Cestar College’s Paralegal program, you’re choosing:
- One of the most comprehensive paralegal curriculums in Ontario, covering all aspects of law that paralegals can practice, such as Legal Research and Writing, Administrative Law, Employment Law, Criminal Law, and much more!
- A paralegal program accredited by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO).
- 1100 hours of learning, including 120 hours of work placement, giving you the benefits of real-life work experience while still in school.
- Small class sizes that foster discussion-based education and provide a welcoming learning environment for all students.
- Dedicated instructors with years of experience as lawyers and paralegals who take pride in seeing their students succeed.
- A challenging but rewarding learning experience full of support from all Cestar College faculty and administrators.
Choosing Cestar College means enrolling in a Paralegal program designed to satisfy your educational requirements while exceeding your post-secondary expectations.