In Ontario, lawyers are licensed to practice law and paralegals are licensed to provide legal services both per the Law Society of Ontario (LSO). While lawyers may practice law in any area, most lawyers focus their practice within a specific legal realm such as real estate law, corporate law, criminal law, and will & estates, for example. Paralegals are restricted to areas of the law in which they may practice.
A paralegal licensed by the LSO may offer legal services and act as a 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 jurisdictions such as Ontario, LSO licensed paralegals are authorized to provide legal services directly to the public. In the United States, for example, paralegals are without authorization to provide legal services in the same way as attorneys and, equally, US paralegal are without status of “officers of the court”. By contrast, in Ontario, paralegals are licensed and regulated and, thereby, can and do provide legals services to the public and appear before certain lower level courts and administrative tribunals.