It’s an honour and a privilege to reach out to you as the President of the Ontario Paralegal Association (“OPA”), the professional association, representing and advocating for paralegals’ interests in Ontario.
Today my main message is that by making the OPA strong, we make the profession strong.
As Members of the OPA, we become stronger both as a group and as individual licensees in our continued commitment to access to justice for the people of Ontario.
We achieve that strength by: continuously increasing the competence of our membership; and by increasing public awareness of and confidence in paralegals and the services we provide.
In the last twelve months the OPA has really begun to move the needle in terms of the specific goals we set for ourselves in advocacy, in membership, and in support for current members and for students, who will be the members of the future.
We’ve done this by being focused – together – on what’s fundamentally important to us both as individuals, and collectively, as the members who make up the OPA and the paralegal profession.
So specifically, where have we seen the needle move?
- We’ve seen it move on access to justice
Your executive has been focused on working effectively with the Ministry of the Attorney General of the Province of Ontario and the LSO to improve access to justice for the people of Ontario – and in the process to generate positive growth opportunities for current and future paralegals. Two areas where we’ve seen outstanding results for the people of Ontario and for paralegals are: the pending Small Claims Court limit increase, and the implementation of changes to allow paralegals to represent Ontarians in family court.
- Small Claims Court Limit Increase:
This culminated on Wednesday of this week – October 23, 2019 – in the announcement that, Ontario’s government is increasing the claim limit for Small Claims Court to make it faster, easier and more affordable for people and businesses to resolve their small claim matters. Beginning January 1, 2020, the Small Claims limit will increase to $35,000.
The impact for paralegals is clear.
- Representing Ontarians in Family Court:
To understand our role in access to justice we do not have to look very far. Before regulation, paralegals provided family law services; after regulation, paralegals were not permitted to practice in family law matters. Ten years after these changes, we see that family law is in chaos in many ways, with many people attempting to represent themselves, clogging the courts in the process and threatening to render the family court unable to serve its constitutional duty to hear and deal with family matters affecting Ontarians.
Your executive is working collaboratively with the LSO to address this, for the benefit of the people of Ontario. The pending amendment to By-Law 4 will permit paralegals to once again practice family law. Paralegals will again be an important part of ensuring that family law litigants have access to justice as provided for in the constitution.
The impact for paralegals is – once again is clear.
- Challenging the status quo:
The OPA demonstrated its commitment to access to justice when it sought interveners status in the McQuigin case. The OPA asked the Court of Appeal for Ontario to rule on the law as it related to first party disclosure. The favourable decision is good for the people of Ontario.
The impact for paralegals is also favourable.
- We’ve seen the needle move on the services the OPA provides to support you, while you focus on your practice
- Continuing Professional Development – our library of trainings continues to grow:
We have an extensive and growing library on online training materials for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), to meet your annual requirements and your personal growth needs. We will son add learning material and voluntary testing for those who want test their skill and knowledge in a certain area of practice, as the material is developed.
You can access CPD training on your own time, watching existing training videos as well as new ones that are added monthly. You can take the self-administered tests that accompany specialized learning videos, and maintain and track your training requirements. But you’re not limited to this – the training materials are available for your own personal growth and learning too – whenever you want to access them.
Our new website launches today:
Today we’re launching a great new version of the OPA website – a portal for you to use to access education and networking services, manage your required hours of CPD, your membership status, and your other member benefits. It’s user friendly and loaded with information and links that will help you in your practice.
We encourage you as members to update and customize your professional profiles because the OPA will permit you to use your profile a landing page to further promote your business. We have created the site in such a way that members can communicate with each other, without storing their conversation on the OPA’s server, and we will added expert resources to permit members to locate experts via the site.
Explore it, use it, benefit from it.
- We’ve seen the needle move in growth of our OPA membership base
While education makes us stronger as individuals and as a group, growing membership in the OPA strengthens us by giving us a unified voice.
We’ve been reaching out to current and future paralegals (students) and we’ve seen significant results.
Since November 2018 we’ve grown our membership by nearly 400 licensees and have also added 500 student members. And we’re going to keep growing, with a goal of more than 3000 members by the end of 2020. That’s a 66% increase from our current membership of 1800.
Growing our membership not only has us speaking for more paralegals – it will also generate an additional $700k in membership revenues, allowing us to more effectively reach out to the public to generate awareness about the services we provide. It also allows us to lobby government on issues of significance to the profession and to provide more services to you as members, so you can focus your time on your practice.
So we’ve been busy moving the needle.
These are results we can all be proud of; results that form a foundation for a strong future for all licensees to build on.
But in order to continue the momentum and realize the potential that is there, we need your help to keep the momentum going.
I’m making a call out to you here. We need more volunteers on our committees. And we need volunteers who are prepared to work with us on delivering tangible results in a timely way.
The results we’ve achieved in the last year have been through the efforts of a small and hardworking team of volunteers. They’ve been amazing. But we can’t continue to rely on a small group to deliver results that all of us benefit from. We need the collective efforts of more of us to keep things moving to where we all want to go.
Because as author John Heywood wrote more than 500 years ago, “many hands make light work”.
I ask all paralegals, OPA and non- OPA members, to understand the constitutional role you play in access to Justice, and to stand tall and proud as you carry out this duty and obligation.
I encourage you to take advantage of the educational materials on the OPA website
And I ask you to step up, to step forward, to volunteer for, and work on OPA committees.
We are stronger with each additional member, with each course successfully completed.
We are strongest when as each of us takes a truly active role in our professional association.
It’s my great pleasure to work with each and every one of you,