In Ontario, lawyers are licensed to practice law and paralegals are licensed to provide legal services by the Law Society of Ontario. While lawyers may practice law in any area, most focus their practice in a general area such as corporate law, real estate law, wills & estates, etc., paralegals are restricted in the areas of law that they may provide legal services.
A licensed paralegal may offer legal services and act as representative in matters falling within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court and the Provincial Offences Court as well as most tribunals (agencies, boards, and commissions).
While a paralegal is generally thought of as a paraprofessional who assists qualified lawyers in their legal work, in some jurisdictions such as Ontario, paralegals licensed by the Law Society of Ontario are authorized to provide legal services directly to the public. Accordingly, the definition of "paralegal" varies by locale. In the United States, paralegals are without authorization to offer legal services in the same way as attorneys, equally paralegals in the United States are without status as officers of the court. In contrast, in Ontario, paralegals are licensed and regulated similarly to the manner in which lawyers are licensed and regulated. In Ontario a paralegal license authorizes the paralegal to provide permitted legal services to the public and appear before certain lower level courts and administrative tribunals.
Paralegals are not "law clerks" and law clerks are not paralegals. A paralegal may perform the services of a law clerk; however a law clerk is without authorization to act as a legal representative in the same manner as a paralegal. Paralegals are considered a formal part of the legal system. Paralegals may become Commissioners, Notary Publics and act as a Justice of the Peace. Paralegals may not become Judges.
In Ontario, a paralegal is licensed and regulated by the Law Society of Ontario, the same governing body that licenses and regulates all lawyers in Ontario. Paralegals must carry mandatory insurance and provide proof of such insurance coverage to the Law Society of Ontario before beginning to provide legal services and thereafter on an annual basis.
It is unlawful for paralegals in Ontario to independently practice in an area of law that is permitted only for lawyers such as family law or an indictable offence in criminal law. However, with affordable access to justice as a signifcant issue of concern for many Canadians it appears that a broader range in scope of practice for paralegals may soon arrive.