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My Life as a Designated Paralegal by Julie Fredette

I have assumed the role of a Designated Paralegal in medium-sized law firm in the Fraser Valley. I feel very fortunate because our Managing Partner, whom I had worked for exclusively for a number of years, was involved in the process of examining the expanded roles for paralegals in the early stages. I believe it was our working relationship and his confidence in my ability that opened his eyes to the idea of expanded roles for paralegals who desire more challenge and added responsibility. RDM Lawyers is a full-service firm, and access to justice for all walks of life is very important to our firm’s core values. Having said that, even with the support of the lawyer I work with and my firm, I honestly did not believe I would see any significant changes or expansion to my job during my working life. Wow – was I wrong! I am so thankful to the members of the Law Society that worked so hard to get this initiative going.

Although I work exclusively in personal injury, my role as a Designated Paralegal has changed. At this moment, I realize that it has changed more than I ever expected. Although a lot of my day-to-day work remains the same, some significant changes have certainly added to my responsibilities and there is a different “feel” to my position. I don’t really know how to explain it, other than to say the value that I bring to the files that I work on is now truly “recognized”.

I meet every personal injury client that comes into our office. Sometimes, it is with the handling-lawyer and sometimes I meet with the clients on my own.

When I meet a client with a lawyer, I am now introduced as a Designated Paralegal and my title is explained in detail to the client by the handling-lawyer. When I meet a client on my own (either in the office, hospital or in their home), I explain my role to them with respect to their specific case, and what the term “designated” means in relation to the services I can provide to them. The most significant and exciting change for me is that I am now able to give our clients legal advice regarding the circumstances of their accident and can advise them on the documentation they need to sign.

It seems to me in explaining the role of a Designated Paralegal, clients have a certain level of confidence in my level of skill. I can sense that they feel completely at ease dealing with me alone on difficult issues, whereas previously they may have asked for assistance directly from the lawyer.

After I assumed the new title, I immediately applied for, and received, my appointment as a Commissioner for Taking Oaths for British Columbia. I have drafted Affidavits, advised the client on the content of the Affidavit and they have sworn it in my presence.

I look forward to assisting clients in resolving other issues (hourly basis versus CFA), which may prove to be more cost-efficient than pursuing the issue at a lawyer’s billing rate. I have not done this yet but feel confident that I will in the near future. We are just waiting for that scenario to present itself!

All enthusiasm about my new role aside, I must stress that I am extremely cautious about the advice that I give clients. I communicate with the responsible lawyer all the time and do not give advice unless I feel completely confident with it. With respect to quantums, settlement offers, counteroffers, etc., I always discuss the merits of the case with the supervising lawyers first. It is always at the forefront of my mind that my role is a lawyer-supervised model and ultimately they are responsible for my actions.

This welcome change came at a good time in my life. My children are all grown up, I have the support of a wonderful husband and am in a position where I can dedicate the time I need to perfect this role. I put forth a lot of effort to make sure that I am up to date on the law and that I provide the service our clients are told they can expect from me. The added responsibility is certainly more than just a change in “title”! I feel truly excited about the expanded role for our profession, but recognize that it might not be for everyone. However, I do encourage you all to consider it, then go for it!

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Julie Fredette works as a Case Manager and Designated Paralegal for RDM Lawyers in the Fraser Valley for 16 years. As Case Manager, Julie carries a number of files on her own while managing a staff of eight people (paralegals and legal administrative assistants) and overseeing their duties. Julie started Paralegal training in Ottawa and graduated from Capilano College (now Capilano University). She is happily married and has children: her daughter is an Occupational Therapist in Seattle and her son is a Linesman in British Columbia.

(Reprint from BCPA Paralegal Press Summer/Fall 2013 Edition)