Today’s blog is being brought to you by guest blogger, Betty Laidlaw, a law clerk in the Private Client Services group of Fasken LLP.
When someone asks me what I do for a living and I answer, “I’m a law clerk”, I often get blank stares. When I say “paralegal”, that is somewhat more understandable, but it is not accurate. Even people in the legal profession don’t always know exactly what a law clerk is and what it is that we do. I overheard a newly-called to the Bar associate at our firm asking a colleague of mine, “What is it you guys do anyway? Pretty much everything, right?” That young lawyer is very smart and will go far!
If you Google “What is a law clerk Ontario”, the first result explains that in 1968 the Law Society of Upper Canada (now the Law Society of Ontario (LSO)) established the term “law clerk” and permitted use of this title to members of The Institute of Law Clerks of Ontario (ILCO). ILCO is the provincial professional association that provides continuing education, fellowship and networking for its members. According to ILCO, a law clerk is: “A trained professional doing independent legal work, which may include managerial duties, under the direction and guidance of a lawyer and whose function is to relieve a lawyer of routine legal and administrative matters and assist him in the more complex ones.”
How do you become a Law Clerk?
A law clerk may become qualified through education or work experience. There are numerous colleges in Ontario that offer Law Clerk programs including Fanshawe College (my alma mater), Humber College and Centennial College. The college program is generally 2 years and may involve a work placement. ILCO also offers a four-course Associate Level Program (litigation, corporate, real estate and estates) generally taken by law clerks already in the profession or by experienced legal assistants who want to become a law clerk.
What is the Difference between a Law Clerk and a Paralegal?
The most significant difference between a law clerk and a paralegal is that a law clerk must work under the supervision of a lawyer but is free to work in any area of the law. A law clerk cannot give legal advice to a client. A paralegal is licensed by the LSO and may work independently on matters permitted by the LSO, e.g. Small Claims Court litigation (up to $35,000); traffic and other offences under the Provincial Offences Act, which are heard in Provincial Offences Court; on certain criminal law matters including assault, mischief, theft under $5,000 and fraud; and before administrative tribunals, including the Landlord and Tenant Board and the Immigration and Refugee Board. Unless working under the supervision of a lawyer, a paralegal may not draft wills, handle real estate transactions or estates. Both a law clerk and a paralegal are similar in that they can provide high quality, cost effective legal services to the client.
What does an Estates Law Clerk Do?
When my daughter was in Grade 2, the teacher asked the kids in her class to tell what their parents do. Surprisingly, my daughter gave a pretty good explanation for her young age when she said, “My Mommy gives away dead people’s money”. That is one of the fun parts of the job when we get to tell a beneficiary who may not know that s/he is receiving anything that they have been left a legacy.
Some of the other specific tasks that we do on an estate administration file where we are acting for the executors include reviewing the will and preparing a summary; attending the initial meeting of the executors with the lawyer; preparing an initial letter to the executors setting out their duties and responsibilities; assisting the executors in gathering information about the assets and liabilities of the estate and preparing a trust record and inventory; preparing the documents to obtain a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee from the court; assisting the executors with liquidating/transferring the assets; preparing executors’ accounts in court passing format; preparing resolutions; preparing statements of distribution; preparing releases and indemnities for distributions to the beneficiaries; and preparing the documents for a court passing of accounts. This is just a small sample of what we do.
We also assist on files where we are representing beneficiaries, guardians of property, trustees of inter-vivos or testamentary trusts and on estate planning and will drafting files. The list goes on and on, and yes, that young lawyer was right. We do pretty much everything.
Thanks for reading and Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.