More than 20 years have passed since graduating from my paralegal program in Ontario. After deciding to relocate to British Columbia four years later, I found myself starting at the ground up, feeling disillusioned that none of the lawyers I had interviewed with seemed to grasp what I had to offer. But I was young, optimistic and glad to be working. It has been a long haul finding an environment in which I am given the trust and latitude to do what I do best. Yet I continue to be surprised that so many lawyers fail to recognize the benefits that can be gained by effectively leveraging the skills of talented paralegals and other legal support professionals. Considering our current economic climate and cost-sensitive consumers, delegating effectively is key to achieving a competitive advantage.
In contrast to other provinces, Ontario, for example, certain tasks and functions that sensibly should be delegated to paralegals are currently prohibited in British Columbia. This issue has been explored by the British Columbia Law Society’s Paralegal Task Force. In 2003, the Benchers asked the Task Force to consider whether the Professional Conduct Handbook should be revised to permit an expanded role for non-lawyer employees and to frame the appropriate qualifications of those employees. An interim report was made in 2005. The final report to the Benchers of April 2006 (which can found on Law Society website) formulated a definition of a paralegal as “a non-lawyer employee who is competent to carry out legal work that, in the paralegal’s absence, would need to be done by the lawyer. A lawyer must be satisfied that the paralegal is competent by determining that one or more of the paralegal’s training, work experience, and education is sufficient for the paralegal to carry out the work delegated.” While Chapter 12 of the existing Professional Conduct Handbook does include certain principles of delegation to legal assistants (i.e., paralegals), the Task Force concludes that additional functions can properly be delegated to paralegals in the interests of the profession and the public. If the recommendations of the Paralegal Task Force were implemented (which would require revision of the Professional Conduct Handbook), a paralegal could perform advocacy work on a client’s behalf, for example, or appear in the Small Claims Division.
Yet lawyers need not wait to get more out the human resources available to them now. Clients will benefit from receiving cost-effective, high quality legal services. Employees will benefit from the expectation and challenge of greater responsibility. The ‘how’ can be gleaned from a number of publications that offer guidance, including Arthur Greene’s Leveraging with Legal Assistants: How to Maximize Team Performance, Improve Quality, and Boost Your Bottom Line, one of several excellent ABA resources on this topic.