The paralegal diploma program at the University of the Fraser Valley has been on hiatus since 2009, but thanks to growing interest in the field and the attention of dedicated instructor Terry Han, it is currently accepting applications and will be up and running for the fall semester.
Han has taught legal administrative assistant courses at Kwantlen Polytechnic University for the past six years and became involved with the program at UFV earlier this year. He sees the paralegal diploma program as the next step for current legal administrative assistants or students who are interested in deepening their basic knowledge of law.
“My goal at UFV is to help legal administrative assistants take the next step and learn substantive law —to help them advance in their careers,” Han says. “This program is going to allow them to take on more interesting and rewarding work.”
Before joining Kwantlen, Han obtained a Bachelor of Laws from Queen Mary College at the University of London, and went on to work as a barrister’s clerk in England. He has an English honours degree from SFU, and is currently working on his master’s degree through Griffith University in Australia, and is also finishing a certificate in conflict resolution at the Justice Institute of BC.
“I feel I bring a strong and varied academic background to the program, and that includes research,” Han explains. “But my interests are really in substantive law and this, coupled with my passion for teaching, makes for a useful combination here.”
It’s this passion that’s led him to help resurrect the diploma program at UFV. There are possibly some major changes coming to the role of a paralegal in BC, he notes, so it’s an exciting field to be working in.
“There’s an important development happening in BC right now, which places this program in an interesting position,” he explains, noting that the role of paralegals is currently under review. “Should these changes pass into legislation, it should allow paralegals with this diploma to become certified. In the near future, paralegals will be allowed to represent and meet with clients and use advocacy skills which are usually reserved for lawyers.”
As the Law Society of BC explains in a benchers’ bulletin, this change is designed to increase the public’s access to legal services by expanding the duties a paralegal can complete. Some actions will still have to be supervised by a lawyer, but these changes will allow paralegals to accomplish a lot more on their own.
This translates into a larger opportunity for UFV students who enrol in the Paralegal diploma program; by the time they graduate, more opportunities could be open to them than ever before.
“I think students applying for this program should definitely have that in the back of their minds,” Han says. “They’ll be able to work more independently than ever before, while still receiving the benefits of the supervision of a lawyer.”
And if a diploma graduate goes on to complete a bachelor’s degree, Han notes this could easily lead to law school. As a two-year program, the diploma will give students a basic grounding and solid foundation in the structure of the Canadian legal system, and will help students become familiar with case law and legal research.
The program is designed around a schedule of three semesters each year over two years, culminating in a six-month practicum worth 12 credits. However, given the density of the material, Han suspects that many students will choose to spend three years completing the program rather than two.
“Someone who’s determined could finish in two years, but I see it as more likely those courses will be spread over three,” he notes. “But we don’t discourage finishing in two, and there will always be students who only have two years to spend on the program either in terms of funding or time.”
Han hopes to see between 15 and 30 students accepted to begin in the fall. Classes will take place during the evenings, to fit better into the schedules of students who may already be working in a legal office.
Han and the Continuing Studies department at UFV both have strong ties to the legal community in the Fraser Valley, and look forward to placing students with lawyers for the final practicum.
“Eventually, we’ll be expanding our reach not just into the local community but also into Vancouver,” Han explains.
For now, the team behind the paralegal diploma program is focused on getting the word out that the hiatus is over and they are once more accepting applications.
“This program is ready to run, and it’s an experience we’re eager to share with our students,” says Han. “With any luck, we hope to see our first graduates in two or three years.”
The full entrance requirements for the program may be viewed at http://goo.gl/pFgln.
For more information, students are invited to contact Mandy Watts at 604-864-4638 or 1-888-504-7441, local 4638, or email firstname.lastname@example.org