Ducharme schooled | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strrigberger ·

Law360 Canada (April 26, 2024, 2:28 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Send in the paralegals? Who are they? What can they do?

The word para is a Greek word meaning beside or alongside. In many jurisdictions, they work alongside the lawyers assisting them. However, here, in Ontario, they can open their own private practice handling many legal matters traditionally handled by lawyers. In other words, they are more than just para. Ta-da!

Actually, my first experience with a paralegal, or at least a quasi-paralegal, was as a kid in Montreal. I got bitten above the knee by a neighbourhood dog, who was known as Spotty. (I have no clue how the canine got that name as he was a chocolate brown Labrador, spotless.)

My Uncle David suggested that we see a lawyer as I was damaged and “definitely” entitled to hefty compensation. Uncle David knew just the lawyer who could get it all done. We set up an appointment and my father, Uncle David and I attended. My good uncle did most of the talking, describing the dog as Godzilla on steroids. In referring to my leg, he amplified it a bit making it sound virtually gangrenous.

The session was brief, concluding after I dropped my trousers and Uncle David pointed to the Band-Aid on my leg. The meeting ended abruptly after the lawyer emitted a non-reassuring “Oh my” and told my dad his fees were $25/hour. Presumably, a contingency fee arrangement was not an option.

Given that this was about my dad’s weekly salary as a tailor, he said he would think about it. Actually, he insisted he did not want to deal with lawyers again. He also opted to avoid future discussions about the law with Uncle David, notwithstanding his recent display of paralegal prowess.

He did, however, decide to take the matter up with another paralegal. Sort of. He ran it by our neighbour Mr. Greenblatt, an elementary school teacher. I don’t know what he knew about the law, but as he was the most formally educated person on the block, consulting him made sense. I will add that he was actually a physical education teacher. But to my dad, a teacher was a teacher, and he respectfully tipped his hat to him.

I recall that, unlike that lawyer, Mr. Greenblatt reacted more sympathetically after seeing my Band-Aid, emitting a reassuring “Hmm.” He offered to send a letter to Spotty’s owner, Monsieur Ducharme. I will add that Mr. Greenblatt was the only nearby neighbour we knew of who owned a typewriter. He was definitely the man.

A few days later, we got a response from the Monsieur Ducharme. Actually, he attended unannounced at our house, agitated, clamouring that Spotty was a gentle dog and that I was making this incident up. He insisted on seeing my mutilated leg. By then, the healing process had kicked in, and the Band-Aid was off. Monsieur Ducharme’s thorough physical revealed only a faint scar. This resulted in him transmitting a non-reassuring reaction, namely a loud “Aha!”

My mother ran over next door to call in reinforcements, namely Mr. Greenblatt. Some multi-party discussion ensued and the matter somehow dissipated. Maybe this outcome was influenced somewhat by the fact that I, under the vigorous interrogation from Monsieur Ducharme at the doorway, confessed to yanking Spotty’s tail while he was enjoying himself munching on a snack. In any event, Mr. Greenblatt’s mediation talents exceeded his paralegal skills.

Actually, what is the history of paralegals? I note that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales does not include a paralegal. I Googled “Chaucer —The Paralegal’s Tale” and the closest I got was something from the Wife of Bath, who said, “I entrusted this guye with my divorce. What kinde of legal training did he get? He cleaned me oute. I really took a bath.”

My first experience with paralegals (official ones) was in the Toronto Small Claims Court, right after getting called to the bar. I noticed a gentleman who represented a number of clients on the docket that day. I asked someone whether he was a popular lawyer, and I was told that he was a paralegal known as Walter. What amazed me was his skillful cross-examination of a car mechanic who messed up the plaintiff’s Lincoln. I thought about my dog-bite experience, and I was certain that had my dad retained someone like this guy to sue Monsieur Ducharme, we would readily have won the case. Walter would have succeeded in making my confession inadmissible.

In those days, paralegals were not required to be licensed, as they are now. And once a licensee, what can they do?

They can independently handle a variety of legal matters, such as landlord and tenant issues, Small Claims Court trials, traffic violations, etc. They also deal with accident claims, up to a point. I have noticed that some of their shingles are a bit laconic and blunt reading, “George Langley: Accidents.” To me, this suggests that if you’re looking for an accident, retain George Langley.

Many lawyers oppose further expansion of the paralegal tentacles. They claim the public will not be properly protected. I don’t know how the lawyers will react if and when paralegals encroach further on their domain. After all, we are civil. I doubt our noble colleagues will go Luddite. I don’t see a mob of lawyers armed with torches and pitchforks gathering in front of George Langley’s office.

Actually, paralegals have also been seeking the right to expand their current practice allowance to enable them to handle significant Family Court matters. The matter is under discussion. It makes sense. After all most people simply cannot afford hundreds of dollars per hour for lawyers. Certainly, the Wife of Bath couldn’t. Many end up representing themselves in Family Court, making a mess of things. At least with some decent legal representation, warring spouses will be able to come to court and cross-examination of the opposing spouse won’t sound like, “Henry, you know you’re a lying louse.”

How do I feel about paralegals expanding their opportunities to practise? I say give it a chance. I give a reassuring thumbs up. At least they just have to be more skilled than my Uncle David.

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book, Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging, is available on Amazon (e-book) and in paper version. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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