While everybody knows what a lawyer or legal assistant is, not everybody knows what a paralegal is or what paralegals do. Here at JFK Law, Rose Singh is a Designated Paralegal who is a key part of our team, and is integral to the delivery of high quality and cost-effective services.
The reality in modern legal practice that we have recognized is that in order to give high-quality legal services, it is essential that we bring the right people with the right skills to bear on the task at hand. Designated Paralegals are a part of a well-balanced legal team. Aboriginal and constitutional law cases are notoriously complex and often require managing thousands of documents and dozens of lay and expert witnesses over a period of years. Good management of legal databases that help organize evidence, witnesses and legal approaches are key to ensuring that work is done effectively, duplication is avoided and that excessive costs are not incurred. It is in just these areas that Designated Paralegals can bring significant additional value and can support the team in preparing for court, interviewing witnesses and preparing useful materials to brief Chiefs, Councils, Elders and the communities. With that in mind we would like to help you understand better the role and qualifications of paralegals and the place they have in the legal team.
What Is a Paralegal?
The Law Society of BC (LSBC) defines a paralegal as a trained professional working under the supervision of a lawyer. A paralegal is qualified by education and has experience to perform a number of substantive legal tasks under a lawyer’s supervision. A paralegal’s duties may vary according to the caseload, clients and the needs of a law firm.
Rose Singh has formal education and training in the legal field and is a Vice-President of the BC Paralegal Association (BCPA). In addition, Rose has nearly 20 years of valuable on-the-job knowledge of the substantive and procedural laws that govern our practice areas. She also has a deep knowledge of how litigation and consultation works, and how her skills and modern document management technology can be used to properly support JFK’s efforts in these areas. We are proud of the work Rose has done to advance her profession and to secure the well-deserved recognition that it has long deserved, and we rely heavily on her knowledge and experience in the management of litigation.
What Is a Designated Paralegal?
As of January 1, 2013, the LSBC implemented changes to its rules to help expand public access to competent and affordable legal services. The changes are intended to help lower costs in some areas by allowing certain paralegals at law firms to be “designated paralegals”. Such paralegals are permitted to give legal advice and exchange undertakings under the supervision of a lawyer. Rose became a Designated Paralegal in February 2013. Expanding the service, Rose and other designated paralegals are permitted to provide clients to receive legal services at a significantly reduced rate and enhance access to justice. Rather than having to use a higher cost lawyer or lawyers to do every task, by including a paralegal in our team we have the ability to assign appropriate work to her, which can then be delivered at a more reasonable cost to the client without compromising quality.
What Can a Paralegal Do in Aboriginal Law?
Aboriginal law is a complex area of law that has historic, constitutional and political dimensions. At JFK, we focus on constitutional aboriginal rights litigation, treaty negotiations, and consultation and accommodation, among other things. These practice areas are highly document intensive and require extensive knowledge about court proceedings. Our paralegal plays a critical role in supporting JFK’s practice areas in a number of ways.
Document Collection and Management
On many files Rose is responsible for collecting, organizing, tracking and making sense of thousands of pages of documents. We use the latest technology in electronic document management. She is highly skilled in electronic document management, which involves converting paper files into computer files and overseeing its management. This work also involves issue coding, creating chronologies, and preparing workbriefs and consultation records.
Due to the nature of our work and the extensive document collections, Rose is also responsible for ensuring that the aims of specific projects are met and prepared on time, this includes preparing work-plans and budgets and monitoring their progress. She really polices the whole team – who often have busy travel and meeting schedules – and ensures that major files are steadily advanced.
Rose also provides litigation support, which includes preparing specialized court documents in all levels of court and different jurisdictions, managing complex evidence records, and arranging for trials and judicial review hearings. Our paralegal also performs legal research by gathering information regarding laws, regulations, court decisions and similar materials. She occasionally attends and assists at trials, hearings and meetings with clients and government officials.
Rose also assists our practice by interviewing clients on their land use of their traditional territory and assisting with the review and assembling of documentary evidence with respect to that land use.
What Is The BC Paralegal Association?
The BCPA is a non-profit organization made up of over 700 paralegals, paralegal students and industry‑related organizations. The BCPA is run by a board of volunteers and was formed in 1979 to promote the professional development, continuing education and social networking of paralegals in British Columbia. Its goal is to bring paralegals together and to promote their interests as well of those of the legal community at large.
Changes Within the Profession
In response to the problem of access to justice in BC, the BCLS’s Benchers unanimously approved the recommendations in this year’s report of the Legal Services Regulatory Framework (LSRF) Task Force. The report of the LSRF Task Force picks up from the recommendations of last year’s Legal Service Providers Task Force report, also unanimously approved. The central recommendation of the current report is for the Benchers to seek an amendment to the Legal Profession Act to permit the Law Society to establish new classes of legal service providers to engage in the practice of law, set the credentialing requirements for such individuals, and regulate their legal practice, in the public interest.
Another recommendation of last year’s Legal Service Providers Task Force Report was to create a program to certify paralegals who have met specific, prescribed education and/or training standards. Rose (along with BCPA VP, Carmen Marolla) has been invited to work with the Law Society’s Education and Practice Department on the Paralegal Certification Project, to develop a proposed certification framework for paralegals for the Benchers’ consideration.
Going forward, Paralegals are poised to provide a key part of the solution to the access to justice problem in BC.
Links to Law Society Reports: