The Law Society regulates the attorneys and paralegals of Ontario in the public interest in making sure that they meet appropriate standards of learning, professional competence and professionalism.
Lawyers are licensed to provide legal counsel concerning all Ontario laws. Paralegals are accredited to offer legal advice on specific Ontario laws. In certain scenarios, either a lawyer or a paralegal is accredited to help you. In other situations, only a lawyer is licensed to help you. In all situations, you might decide to represent yourself. The information below will assist you to understand your choices.
Attorneys’ professional qualifications include:
, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree or the equivalent
Successful completion of the Law Society’s Lawyer Licensing Process including Licensing Examinations, and Articling Program, including completion of an on-line professional responsibility and practice course.
Family matters, such as divorce, separation and child custody
Criminal matters in all levels of court
Civil litigation matters in all levels of court
Car Accident Law and related issues
Administrative and Business law matters, including appearances before tribunals.
Paralegals’ credentials include:
Completion of a legal services program licensed by the Law Society.
Successful completion of this Law Society’s Paralegal Licensing Process, such as Licensing Examinations.
While lawyers can represent you in all legal issues, paralegals are accredited to give certain given legal services.
You may choose to have a paralegal represent you in:
Small claims court
Prosecution of provincial offences, including traffic tickets, beneath the Provincial Offences Act
Tribunals, like the Landlord and Tenant Board or the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
Certain summary conviction criminal charges under the Criminal Code moving at the Ontario Court of Justice.
Exemptions from law
Under laws and by-laws, persons in certain circumstances are permitted to offer legal services without a license in the Law Society. Since the Law Society doesn’t govern these individuals they are not subject to our principles, by-laws or disciplinary procedures.
Individuals who provide legal services without being licensed by the Law Society, or without falling into one of the exempted categories, are acting illegally
What professional responsibilities do lawyers and paralegal have?
Law Society by-laws, Rules of Professional Conduct, Paralegal Rules of Conduct — all based on the Law Society Act and made by Law Society board members, also known as benchers — set out the professional and ethical obligations of lawyers and paralegals and the manner in which they are regulated by the Law Society. Lawyers and paralegals who fail to meet these standards are subject to the Law Society complaints and regulatory processes.
What things can a lawyer or paralegal do?
Represent clients at court or at a tribunal. A lawyer or paralegal can represent someone at, or give legal advice about, a court or tribunal proceeding. A lawyer or paralegal can help with forms or documents (e.g., statements of claim, or statements of defence) that are related to a court and tribunal proceeding.
Provide services or advice requiring the use of legal principles or legal judgement. A lawyer or paralegal can give advice about legal rights or responsibilities. For example, a lawyer or paralegal can give legal advice about a traffic offence or small claims court. This applies even if there is no law suit or other proceeding.
Only a lawyer can prepare or help prepare legal documents such as wills, powers of attorney, custody or settlement agreements that pertain to family or matrimonial law.
What are the general guidelines for choosing a legal professional and how to Hire a legal professional?
Call a few different professionals and ask them if they will take your case.
Ask them how much they charge, either per hour, or per case.
Book a time to meet with them.
Ask them about their experiences with your type of case.
Ask them to estimate how much their services will cost for handling your case.
Ask whether you will be billed on a monthly basis or at the end of your case.
Ask if you will have to pay for anything else above and beyond their fees.
The Law Society does not set client fees. Lawyers and paralegals set their own fees at their own discretion, based on the services they provide, so costs will vary from practitioner to practitioner.
Preparing to meet your lawyer or paralegal
What to do for your first meeting
At your first meeting you need to tell your lawyer or paralegal what has happened. You will want to find out how the law applies to your situation and what kind of legal options you have. You should also find out how much it will cost to hire the lawyer or paralegal to work for you.
Your goal is to decide if you want to hire the lawyer or paralegal. If you do, your first meeting is the beginning of a working relationship.
Please note: It is a good idea to ask the lawyer or paralegal whether you will be charged for your first meeting. If this meeting has been arranged through the Law Society Referral Service, you are entitled to a free consultation of up to 30 minutes. However, the consultation does not include legal work. If you ask the lawyer or paralegal to do any legal work (even during the consultation period), there may be a charge involved.
How to prepare for your meeting
Gather together all the documents that you have about your case.
Think about what you want to say. Be ready to tell your story in a clear and logical order. You might want to write down dates and important points you want to say.
Make a list of questions you want to ask. See Questions to ask when you meet.
Be prepared to talk about fees. A lawyer or paralegal may need some money – a retainer – so that he or she can begin working for you right away.
Legal Aid clients should bring a Legal Aid Certificate to their first meeting. You can apply for one at your local Legal Aid Office. See the Legal Aid Web site for more information.
What you can do to help?
Be prepared for your conversations and meetings. Bring any documents your lawyer or paralegal requests to see. If you have questions, write them down so you are ready to ask them.
Read the letters and documents your lawyer or paralegal sends to you. Make a note of your questions.
Keep all the letters and documents about your case in one place – a file folder or box – so that you can find them easily when you need them.
Respect the pressures that lawyers and paralegals usually work under. Come to your appointments on time. Call if you will be late or cannot make it. Understand that your lawyer or paralegal may not be able to answer your telephone calls right away.
Get to know the other staff in your lawyer’s or paralegal’s office. They may be able to help you. Call your lawyer or paralegal only when it is necessary.
Have reasonable expectations. You may not be able to get everything you want. The justice system is not perfect. There may be delays and disappointments.
See Questions to ask when you meet.
Questions to ask when you meet
About your legal options
How does the law affect my situation?
What choices do I have?
About your case
How long will my case take?
What will you do next? When will I hear from you next?
What should I do next? Is there anything I should not do?
Are my expectations realistic?
What is your hourly rate? How much will your services cost?
Will I have to pay for anything else?
What could change how much your services will cost?
How much is your retainer? (the amount to pay before a lawyer or paralegal starts work on a case)
Can I pay with a credit card? on a monthly basis?
Is there anything I can do to keep costs down?
About your lawyer’s or paralegal’s office practices
How will you keep in touch with me?
Can someone else in your office give me information about my case?
Seeking legal help? Protect yourself.
Use a licensed legal professional.
You should know that an unlicensed person:
may not be properly trained to provide legal services
is not required to follow a code of professional conduct or to answer to a regulator
does not have to carry insurance for negligence and is not backed by a compensation fund. This means if they make a mistake there may be no compensation for any damages you suffered as a result and if they take your money and provide no services in exchange, you may not get your money back.
If you hire a person who is not licensed, you have no protection.
Check our online lawyer and paralegal directory. Or you can call the Law Society at 416-947-3300 or toll free at 1-800-668-7380. We also post a list of people who have been found by the Court to be illegal practitioners.
Only lawyers and paralegals can provide legal services directly to the public. Illegal practitioners are people who provide legal services directly to the public without a licence. The Law Society prosecutes illegal practitioners.
If you suspect that someone you are dealing with as lawyer or paralegal is not licensed to do this type of work, tell the Law Society.
Planning to practise law or provide legal services directly to the public in Ontario?
In general, you must have a licence from the Law Society of Ontario. If you’re unsure, contact the Law Society for further information.
Practising law or providing legal services directly to the public without a licence is illegal. It is also illegal for someone to claim to be licensed as a paralegal when they are not. It is illegal for someone to pretend to be a lawyer when they are not. And it is illegal for someone to tell people that they can provide a legal service, legal advice or legal representation that they are not licensed to provide.
The Law Society Act grants the Law Society enforcement powers to ensure that the public is protected from unlicensed practitioners. Where warranted, the Law Society may pursue:
Why use a licensed professional?
Licensed lawyers and paralegals are fully qualified and trained legal professionals. If you have a problem with a licensed lawyer or paralegal, you can complain to the Law Society. The Law Society reviews all complaints it receives. Where appropriate, it disciplines the lawyer or paralegal.
If you lose money due to a licensed lawyer’s or paralegal’s dishonesty, you can apply to the Law Society’s compensation fund, which can help get at least some of your money back. Licensed lawyers and paralegals also have insurance, in case they make a mistake.
To find a lawyer visit our Lawyer category page