What is a Paralegal?
Formerly referred to as a "Legal Assistant", Paralegals have legal training and knowledge of the substantive and procedural aspects of law and are capable of independent legal work, performed subject to the general supervision of a lawyer. The Law Society of British Columbia Paralegal Task Force provides the following definition: "A paralegal is 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.” While quite specific, this definition allows some flexibility. However, it does not extend to those who perform an occasional paralegal task or by virtue of experience, performs a task that is so much of a "procedure" that it becomes more "rote".
What are the membership requirements to join BCPA?
For full details please see the Membership tab of the BCPA website.
What are the benefits?
For full details please see the Membership tab of the BCPA website.
How do I become a “CERTIFIED” paralegal?
There is no certification regime in British Columbia. If you wish to set yourself apart, the best way to do this is by obtaining paralegal training from a reputable university or college, distinguishing yourself through the quality of your work and by participating in an association of your peers such as the BC Paralegal Association.Membership does not mean you are ‘certified’, however voting membership is meaningful in that it means that you have met specific criteria to qualify.
I’m thinking of becoming a paralegal – can you tell me which school is recognized by the BCPA and provides the best training?
The BCPA does not recommend any program or institute over another. It is important for a student to make that decision for themselves based on their individual needs.
Currently, the BCPA accepts students of the paralegal programs at Capilano University and Vancouver Community College for student memberships and graduates of those programs as voting memberships. The reason for this is the length of experience the BCPA has had with these institutions, including the many years these programs have been in place, the caliber of the graduates and the quality of the programs and their instructors.
I live outside of the Lower Mainland – is there any good training here or online?
Our information is that both Capilano University and Vancouver Community College offer some courses on-line. There are some entrance requirements. Visit the school websites or contact the schools directly for more information.
What are my employment prospects once I graduate from a Paralegal program?
Demand for qualified paralegals continues to be high and there are many opportunities for graduates to find employment, subject to the area of law. Sources for job posting include BCPA members-only job postings, newspaper classified ads, employment agencies and government ministry websites (i.e. Department of Justice, Ministry of the Attorney General of British Columbia).
How can I hire a paralegal?
If you are a lawyer, law firm or legal department wishing to hire a paralegal, the BCPA offers a job posting service to our membership on our website with email notification for a fee, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a business or individual wishing to hire a paralegal please note that the British Columbia Law Society does not permit legal services to be offered without the supervision of a lawyer. Unlike Ontario, BC does not have independent paralegals. If you require legal advice or assistance with specialized legal matters, please consult with a lawyer.
Are contract positions an option in this industry?
Yes and a very viable option. Many employers in the legal field have a need for experienced paralegals to perform contract work for maternity leaves, special projects or for a job share position. The benefit of contract work, aside from the fact that it allows you to get a foot in the door, is that it gives a Paralegal the flexibility to move from employer to employer. Contractors gain valuable insight into various firms, legal departments or ministries without having to commit to a position full-time. At the end of a contract, if the employer is satisfied with your work and there is a need, it is possible to receive an offer of permanent employment.
Any contract work must comply with Chapter 12 of the Professional Conduct Handbook (Law Society of British Columbia) – meaning that all work must be done under the supervision of a lawyer. Accordingly paralegal contractors must always work for lawyers.
Are there self-employment opportunities vs. being hired?
Again, the only self-employment opportunities in this field would be contract opportunities as paralegal work in BC must be done under the supervision of a lawyer.
What can I expect as a salary?
Salaries are based on many factors, such as years of experience, area of law, size of employer, hours worked and location (large city or regional) to name a few. The average range for a full-time Paralegal, working 35 - 40 hours a week with 1 or more years experience is approximately $30K - 90K based on the factors described above.
BCPA Members receive a yearly salary survey which contains detailed information provided, anonymously, by voting members.
What is the difference between the terms "Paralegal", "Legal Assistant", “Legal Administrative Assistant" and "Legal Secretary"?
Paralegal / Legal Assistant are synonymous. Education for Paralegals / Legal Assistants consist of more substantive legal coursework consistent with the greater paralegal job responsibilities.
Legal Administrative Assistant is another newer term for Legal Secretary. Education for Legal Administrative Assistants is generally training for legal secretarial positions.
A paralegal’s title (whether Paralegal or Legal Assistant) and work is ultimately subject to the discretion of their employer.
My Capilano Certificate / Diploma reads “Legal Assistant” – can this be updated to reflect current industry terms?
Graduates of Capilano College’s Legal Assistant Programs (as the school and the program were then known) can now have their diplomas and certificates updated by the registrar for a standard fee. Further information about the process for applying is on Cap's FAQ page at http://www2.capilanou.ca/programs/paralegal/faqs.html.
How do I obtain an ICBC billing number?
This number is only required if you intend to do ICBC defense work.
Paralegals cannot obtain an ICBC billing number independently. An employer, who is an approved SA3 firm, must apply on your behalf by submitting the required documentation to ICBC to obtain a billing number for you. If a Paralegal leaves a firm they cannot take their billing number with them to a new firm. Instead, the process must be restarted.
For more information on obtaining a billing number please see "How does a Paralegal Get an ICBC Billing Number?" in the Links and Resources tab of the BCPA website. Scroll to Public Documents or click here.
What criteria should I consider when looking for employment?
There are two categories:
Personal – Part-time or full-time work, commute or no commute, salary, etc.
Environmental - firm size, workspace, location, etc
The most important, which applies to both categories is "fit". The right fit is the key to most successful employee/employer relationship and contributes to paralegals having a high level of job satisfaction. Employees are often hired on skill but are dismissed or leave employment based on fit.
I am a paralegal moving to BC, will my out of province credentials be accepted and what are my employment prospects?
The BCPA evaluates educational credentials for on a case by case basis for the purposes of conferring membership only. Whether a paralegal’s credentials are suitable for employment purposes is subject to a prospective employer’s discretion. BC employers typically look for relevant education, experience and familiarity with BC law and procedures. Canvas some of the legal employment agencies in Vancouver, check the local newspapers as well as the websites of government ministries (like the Attorney General's Office or Public Guardian, Department of Justice) to see where you might fit in.
I have been a legal secretary for over 20 years and would like to know how to go about getting paralegal certification
As noted above, there are no “registered” or “certified” paralegals in BC. Ultimately, it is your employer who decides whether the position you hold at a firm is a paralegal position and a large factor in determining this would be the level of responsibility and complexity associated of the tasks you perform.
What is the scope of a paralegal’s work?
Chapter 12 of the Law Society of BC’s Professional Conduct Handbook above will give you a good overview. Visit the Law Society of BC’s website for more information. As well, the websites of the schools offering programs will provide you with this information.
Are there services one could provide to realtors just being a paralegal or do you need to be a lawyer or notary?
The only service that a paralegal could provide to a realtor would be under the direction or supervision of a lawyer.
Is this a growth industry?
Generally, yes, depending where you live and what area of law you work in. The market for paralegals is not as extensive in smaller communities. In larger urban centres there are many positions available. For more information visit the Statistics Canada or Government Job Futures website. The general consensus in the legal community is there will be a shortage of paralegals in the years to come.
What progress is being made with respect to paralegals practicing independently in BC?
The BCPA does not believe that Paralegals in BC are currently on a path to follow Ontario with respect to independent paralegal practice. There is more of a movement towards certification or licensing which is reflected in the many reports published by the Law Society and its Task Force (last report April 2006 which has now been forwarded to other committees for a response).
Could a British qualified lawyer with 20 years experience be able to work as a paralegal in BC?
While you likely have a wealth of experience, we cannot tell you what your employment prospects are. This is up to potential employers and would depend on whether that firm would be willing to train you in BC procedure and the area of law in which you are seeking employment. The BCPA does not evaluate credentials for the purposes of employment – only for the purposes of membership. We encourage you to consider becoming a member if you are seeking employment as a paralegal.
Please send me information on Legal Secretary and Paralegal training.
BCPA is an association for Paralegals which is different from legal secretaries or legal administrative assistants. We do not forward brochures on educational programs, however you will find that much of this is available online.
I am thinking of moving to Alberta and was wondering if my skills are transferable there? (I know that the law is different, but just wondering what information you have in this regard.)
Many of your skills will be transferable (as is the case in most professions). Having said that, any employment opportunities will be dependent on employers and whether a firm will be able / willing to train you in Alberta procedure. You may want to canvas this issue with employers (maybe through employment agencies in the city you intend to move to). Also, try the Alberta Paralegal Association; they may be able to give you further information.
What does the BCPA bring to paralegals outside Vancouver?
The Board has been working hard to reach out to other parts of the province. Efforts towards accomplishing a province-wide focus are:
1. Regional Directors - (currently in Kelowna and Nanaimo) who are committed to bringing a regional prospective to the BCPA and ensuring that the voice of the BCPA is province-wide;
2. New website - with chat functions, exclusive member directory that brings a wealth of information and services to members regardless of their location;
3. Lunch & Learns - offered by webinar to out-of-town membership - regional members can access these seminars at their desk. BCPA is proud of this particular initiative which is offered for free and which requires considerable technical expertise and capable assistance by Dye & Durham;
4. The Paralegal Press Newsletter - which offers a wealth of information and articles for the profession.
As the professional organization representing paralegals in B.C., we are proud to be able to provide input and contribution to various law-related institutions in the Province such as Capilano University and the Law Society’s Paralegal Task Force. Where appropriate, we try to provide regular submissions (for example, a a submission was prepared and delivered to the BC Justice Review Task Force). We take an interest in National issues as well and maintain relationships with CAP, ILCO (Ontario) and other provincial organizations. BCPA’s viewpoint is often sought as stakeholders in a number of law-related initiatives as well.
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