Paralegal licensing is the domain of provincial law societies, so the educational requirements and definitions change depending on where you want to work.
Paralegals in Ontario
Ontario is currently the only province where paralegals require special licensing. Licenses provided by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) authorize a paralegal to represent clients in Small Claims Court, on Administrative Tribunals, and in the Ontario Court of Justice for certain types of cases.
To obtain a license as a paralegal in Ontario, you need to complete one of the following courses of study:
- Paralegal certificate: one year of study focusing only on paralegal-specific education. These are designed for working people, mature students, and graduates.
- Degree program: a bachelor’s degree including paralegal education.
- Paralegal diploma: a two-year mixture of paralegal study and practical work experience.
Of the three, only diplomas include co-op placement. This is a major benefit, since LSUC requires applicants to have workplace experience to obtain their license. Students who choose a certificate or degree will need to find their own opportunities to work in a law office before obtaining their license.
Applicants will also need to submit a statement of good character assuring LSUC that they have never been convicted of a crime, write and pass an exam, and pay a registration fee.
Paralegals in British Columbia
BC works a little differently: there is no licensing requirement. However, it is much easier for paralegals to advance in their career if they are in good standing with the BC Paralegal Association. To become a member, you have to meet one of the following criteria:
- Employed as a paralegal with five years of experience in the field
- Employed as a paralegal with a certificate, degree, or diploma
- Studying to be a paralegal at an acknowledged Canadian institution
Most other provinces do not have their own gatekeepers. Essentially, if a law firm will hire you to be a paralegal, then you can be one. It certainly helps to have some training as a paralegal, though.
What to Consider
Paralegal is a practical profession, and most employers want practical experience. Programs that provide work experience components are invaluable, especially in Ontario.