Paralegals: How to Choose the Right One

by Ingrid Phaneuf

DON MILLS, Ont. – Truckers and carriers in need of legal services should consider hiring a paralegal. But they should also be smart about who they hire.

“Anybody can hang out a shingle,” says Paulette Gauthier-Roy, head of Pardon Inc. who specializes in helping drivers obtain Canadian Pardons and U.S. waivers.

“Paralegals aren’t regulated, so anybody can claim they know how to do the job.”

For the most part, paralegals are ex-cops, or Ministry of Transportation officers, or people who have experience working in legal aid clinics, like Gauthier-Roy.

They can’t do everything a lawyer can do, but they can in many instances do the required paperwork, or go to traffic court, or to a commercial licensing hearing for or with a driver and/or operator to help minimize fines and/or demerit points.

The good ones have plenty of experience, can give you sound advice when it comes to the impact of violations on your commercial licence and insurance costs and cost substantially less than lawyers.

But the bad ones can take your money and do nothing or next to nothing, and since they’re not regulated, there’s very little you can do about it.

“I heard about someone who paid $40 to a so-called paralegal so they could get a waiver and then never heard from him again,” says Gauthier-Roy.

So how do you tell the good ones from the bad?

Here’s how: Check out your paralegal’s references, experience and overall professionalism before you put your money down.

Many paralegals get work thanks to their satisfied customers.

“It’s my track record that gets me work at this point in my career,” says Gauthier-Roy.

“Most of my work comes to me through referrals.”

Background and experience should also be a factor in your hiring choice, says Mark Reynolds, head of the commercial vehicle division for X-Copper Legal Services and a former MTO inspections officer.

X-Copper was founded in 1988 by former police officers. The commercial vehicle division was created about a year ago.

“We deal with everything from logbook violations to inspection and maintenance charges to placard violations,” says Reynolds.

“What we do is review the charge, inform our client of how the charge impacts their employability and their operability in the case of operators, and then try to reduce that impact.”

Left to fend for themselves, a lot of drivers and operators will make a bad deal in court, Reynolds says.

“A driver might think he’s getting a deal when the Crown offers to reduce the fine,” Reynolds explains.

“But he may still be accumulating the same or even more demerit points, and that’s what affects his or her employability.”

Reynolds is convinced you can’t overestimate the value of someone who actually understands how commercial vehicle licences work.

“Our clients need someone who can look at their situation and see the possible consequences.”

Prices for paralegals vary. Some, like X-Copper, charge a flat fee, while others charge an hourly rate.

Either way, what you pay and how, and what you get for what you pay, should be something you find out about up front.

That’s just part of the professionalism you should be looking for when hiring a paralegal.

Just as telling is the paralegal’s willingness to explain, up front, what you can and can’t expect from them.

“They should be able to tell you what to expect,” says Jim Lee, director of Transcon Management Inc., a one-man operation in Orangeville, Ont.

Lee was a carrier-licensing officer with the MTO prior to his retirement in 1989, when he started the business he runs today.

“I always tell my clients: here’s what’s going to happen and here are the options. You need to be aware of what’s going to happen. A good paralegal should never hold out promises that can’t be fulfilled.”

In short, when it comes to hiring a paralegal, let the golden rule of “Buyer Beware” be your motto.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.