A paralegal is an individual with formal education as a legal assistant, but with a specialized skill for drafting legal documents and conducting research. A paralegal is not qualified to provide legal advice but can provide practical knowledge. A good paralegal has had the benefit of working in the legal field under the guidance of a lawyer and has received considerable practical legal training along the way.
Currently in Alberta, there is no formal training nor education, and likewise, no certification, to become a paralegal. Still, further, there is no governing body in Alberta, such as Ontario, tasked with regulating paralegals. The result is that many individuals with little formal training or working knowledge define and hold themselves out to be paralegals despite the fact that they have little practical or “boots to the ground” experience. A Legal Assistant Certificate does not make a paralegal!
To be an effective paralegal, one should have formal education as a legal assistant coupled with considerable work experience under the guidance of a lawyer. It is only in this way that a paralegal can gain a solid understanding of the law from a practical perspective. This gives a paralegal the grounding to properly draft legal documents and navigate the legal environment.
Unfortunately, there are numerous unqualified and unsavoury individuals who hold themselves out to be paralegals. These sorts give qualified and conscientious paralegals/civil court agents a bad reputation. With all things though, there will always be “bad apples”. My advice is to do your homework. Make sure the paralegal has a website. Ask about their work experience and training. Make sure that they are insured and bonded. If they cannot provide you with sufficient answers to your questions, stay away from them!