So What the Heck is a Paralegal?


So What the Heck is a Paralegal?

Paralegals are one of the most viable and valuable resource for supporting improved public access to justice along with a more lucrative client retention and billing scenario for lawyers and law firms alike.

The public doesn’t yet understand the role of a paralegal and, right now, neither do a lot of legal professionals. That’s OK, everyone’s busy. Advocacy and clarity of the evolving role of paralegals hasn’t fully taken flight, yet. So let’s buckle in and get the wheels up.

A paralegal is a non-lawyer who is a trained professional, working under the supervision of a lawyer. That’s straight out of the Code of Professional Conduct for B.C. These professionals have the education, training and knowledge necessary to take on specifically delegated legal work ordinarily performed by a lawyer (charging a lawyer’s rate).

Enter the British Columbia Paralegal Association and me, its President, Elizabeth Kollias. Our position is that paralegals play a key role in proving affordable alternatives to the public in accessing legal services. And we provide that without any reduction in quality of service rendered because our members are trained and skilled legal professionals. Since comic book films are all the rage, right now, allow me to draw a comparison. Paralegals are not Batman. But paralegals CAN BE effective members of the Justice League. We are trained, we are experienced, and we are good communicators. We will become an effective force for heightening public confidence in the legal profession, while giving the public comfort by reducing clients’ bills. We’re The Atom. I was going to say Green Lantern, but thanks for nothing, Ryan Reynolds.


Paralegals work in all practice areas. Our ranks reflect a culturally diverse workforce. These professionals employ sensitive and insightful communication to reach out to clients who, unassisted, might be inclined to “wing it” in drafting and execution, or self-represent in relatively minor conflicts.

The absence of true access to justice has become the elephant in the room among the public. Faced with a legal issue — even a simple one — too many citizens have become inclined to say, “I just can’t afford a lawyer.” Some of these same citizens eschew the idea of going into “a big fancy law firm” because they’re convinced that they’ll be met by a bank of high-billing, condescending faces who will use words like “eschew”. Paralegals are perfectly positioned to bridge that gap. Effectively engaged and marketed, paralegals will be a vital element in aiding the expansion of public access to justice as well as demystifying the administration of that justice.

“Can’t a legal administrative assistant do the same as a paralegal?” No more than a dental office administrator (essential) can scale your teeth. Teeth scaling is the work of an educated and trained hygienist (also essential, but loses track of appointments). Legal administrative assistants perform supervised non-billable duties, often focused on scheduling and/or clerical tasks.

Paralegals, on the other hand, perform billable work. We interview clients and witnesses, collect information, expertly prepare draft pleadings, court forms and agreements, engage in legal research and generate legal memos. Paralegals also engage in project management through the creation of work plans and budgets.

Any law firm of any size should be looking now to integrate paralegals into their practices. With our skillset, we offer the opportunity to attract and retain more clients, providing a higher level of service at a lowered cost. The engagement and deployment of “designated paralegals” to assume some of a lawyer’s traditional work with safeguards in place to cover liability and supervision already exists. Supported by the Law Society of B.C. and the Government of B.C., the landscape is now shifting to allow for the training and certification of “licensed paralegals” whose presence promises to change the game for the better for both the public and the legal profession.