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Mobile Commissioning

Responsibilities, Risks, and Practice Tips for Paralegals 

In response to client demands for more convenient access to legal services and reduced legal costs, some lawyers are delegating to paralegals the task of meeting with clients to sign or commission documents. When this occurs outside the lawyer’s office, the practice is known as mobile signing or commissioning.[1]

Mobile commissioning is different than remote or virtual commissioning. With remote commissioning, the commissioner (paralegal or lawyer) uses web-based video technology tools and platforms to commission documents. In other words, the commissioner is not physically in the presence of the deponent at the time the oath or declaration are administered. For additional information about and guidance on remote commissioning, paralegals should consult the Law Society’s Remote Commissioning resource.

If paralegals choose to provide mobile commissioning services, they must ensure that the arrangement complies with their professional obligations and safeguard against the risks associated with such services.  This resource identifies some of the professional obligations and risks paralegals should be mindful of when providing mobile signing or commissioning services, and offers some practice tips to help paralegals manage these risks.[2]

Recognizing the Risks of Providing Mobile Commissioning Services

Providing mobile signing or commissioning services to a client on behalf of a lawyer gives rise to a number of practice management risks. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Establishing a paralegal-client relationship. Paralegals should guard against forming a paralegal-client relationship when meeting with clients to whom they are providing mobile signing or commissioning services on behalf of a lawyer. Because a paralegal-client relationship may be created informally, paralegals should be aware of the possible perception that the paralegal is providing legal services to the client or protecting the client’s legal interests or rights.

  • Engaging in unauthorized practice of law/acting outside the permissible paralegal scope of practice. Relatedly, paralegals must ensure they do not engage in the unauthorized practice of law by undertaking activities outside their permissible scope of practice outlined in By-Law 4. Where a paralegal is engaged by a lawyer to provide mobile signing or commissioning services, there is a risk that the paralegal may be asked by the client to provide services that only the lawyer is authorized and skilled to provide (e.g., a paralegal may be asked by the lawyer’s client to explain the legal effect of real estate closing documents that the client is being asked to sign).

  • Inadvertently disclosing confidential information. Depending on where or how the mobile signing or commissioning services take place, paralegals should be mindful of the risk that client information may be inadvertently disclosed (e.g., if commissioning takes place in a public location).

  • Acting in a conflict of interest. Paralegals must identify and avoid conflicts of interest (Paralegal Rules, r. 3.04). Paralegals who provide legal services to their own clients and who engage in mobile signing or commissioning services on behalf of a lawyer (i.e., on a contract basis) should be cautious about the clients to whom they are providing such services and about receiving confidential information about a lawyer’s client. Performing mobile signing or commissioning services for certain clients and/or receiving confidential information about the lawyer’s client while performing such services may result in a conflict of interest for the paralegal in respect of an existing client or may prevent the paralegal from acting for a client in future.

Managing the Risks of Providing Mobile Commissioning Services

Paralegals should consider implementing the following practice management strategies to reduce the risks associated with mobile signing or commissioning documents on behalf of a lawyer:

  1. Document the working relationship. Paralegals should consider clearly documenting working arrangements with lawyers. Among other things, the document may outline the scope of services to be provided by the paralegal, the manner in which instructions will be provided by the lawyer to the paralegal, whether client and matter information will be disclosed in advance for conflict checking purposes, and the measures to protect client confidentiality.

  2. Identify and document instructions. Paralegals should ensure that they have clear instructions from the lawyer regarding the specific task that has been delegated to them. Instructions should include answers to important questions that may arise at the signing meeting with the client, including:

    • How the paralegal should answer general inquiries from the client (e.g., what the document or its legal effect is, what will be done with the document, etc.)
    • How to reach the lawyer if support is required at the signing meeting and what steps to take if the lawyer is unavailable or cannot be reached

    • What steps the paralegal should take if he/she feels the client is being pressured to sign the document

    • What the paralegal should do if he/she has a safety-related concern or is unsatisfied as to the identity of the person signing the document

  3. Ensure the client understands the scope of services provided.  To avoid forming a paralegal-client relationship, a paralegal should clearly explain to the lawyer’s client the scope of the mobile signing or commissioning services to be provided by the paralegal. To manage risk, paralegals may consider documenting the explanation.

  4. Document and report on the signing meeting. Paralegals should consider documenting and reporting to the lawyer about the signing meeting, including any issues identified or inquiries made by the lawyer’s client so that the lawyer can address them directly with the client.

​Paralegals who have further questions about their professional obligations relating to providing mobile signing or commissioning services may wish to contact the Practice Management Helpline. To do so, call the Law Society at 416-947-3315 or 1-800-668-7380, ext. 3315 and ask to be connected to the Helpline. The Helpline is available Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm EST.

[1] The Law Society of Ontario does not regulate the commissioning of documents. Paralegals should review the Commissioners for taking Affidavits Act for more information about their obligations related to commissioning.

[2] This resource has been prepared to assist paralegals with complying with their professional obligations when providing mobile commissioning services on behalf of a lawyer. Paralegals should refer to the actual Paralegal Rules of Conduct (“Paralegal Rules”), Paralegal Professional Conduct Guidelines, and By-Law 4 to determine the full extent of their obligations.

Additional Resources

Commissioners for Taking Affidavits
Remote Commissioning
Notary Public

Terms or Concepts Explained