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Sunday, May 22, 2011

My rant about paralegal services

I noticed this morning that somebody has put notices up all over my neighbourhood advertising a paralegal service. This service apparently offers several services to the public, including wills, pardons, and buying and selling of real estate. If only the people who tear off the phone numbers on the bottom of the notice had any idea what a terrible idea it is to call a service like this.

Think about it. These people aren't lawyers. They have no training and don't know the law any better than you or your friend or your next door neighbour. The only way they get around charges of practicing law without a license is to get you to sign a paper saying that you know they're paralegals, not lawyers.

So what do they actually do for you? They get forms and fill them in for you. They charge you money for that. And that's it.

They don't offer any advice (and if they did, they'd be charged with practicing law without a license). Their knowledge is limited to the use of the form. They can't help you if things go wrong. They don't offer you any protection or damage control, even though the fact that you've used a paralegal and not a lawyer hugely increases your chances of something hitting the fan. They don't carry malpractice insurance. They can't spot legal issues and identify them for you before they become problems. Why would you even pay anyone for that? You might as well just download the form yourself from the internet and do it yourself.

Perhaps this is enough for something like obtaining a pardon for a criminal offense. After all, a form is all that's required. But real estate? And wills? The concept of a will as a fill-in form is dangerous and so misleading.

Basically they are relying on calling themselves "paralegals" instead of "people with forms we'll fill in for a couple of bucks" to fool you into thinking they have skills they don't. A paralegal, by definition, works with a lawyer and is supervised by a lawyer. Funny though, no "paralegal" companies I've run into are associated with any lawyers.

Dental hygenists do their work under the supervision of a dentist. A paramedic eventually turns his patient over to a doctor. A paralegal is supposed to be on a team with a lawyer, for the protection of the client.

There's no governing body or licensing body for paralegals in Alberta, or in most provinces for that matter. Paralegal programs in our colleges train people very well, but they are trained to work with lawyers. So with no controls, absolutely anyone can download some forms then hang up posters calling himself a paralegal.

I'm always completely amazed at how willing people are to take chances with legal issues. The medical equivalent is meeting a guy in the mall who is selling re-packaged aspirin off the shelf and telling you he's curing your migraine. He's not helping you. In fact he may even be hurting you by making you think you don't need to see a doctor who could diagnose you with what's really going on.

Ok, I'm ranting, I know. But it totally burns me up to see good people use services like this and end up with huge, costly, upsetting estate litigation years later because they didn't realize the consequences.

Maybe I'd feel better if I tore one of the phone numbers from the bottom of the poster and called up these "paralegals" myself to rant at them...

1 comment:

  1. This is a very informative blog on Toronto Paralegal services. The only way they get around charges of practicing law without a license is to get you to sign a paper saying that you know they're paralegals, not lawyers.


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