Difference Between Paralegals And Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants have similar duties in a law firm, and they are usually referred to in the same context when it comes to legal decisions handed down by a court.

Courts don’t differentiate between them and bar associations don’t often distinguish between the roles when setting rules for practices. However, paralegal and legal assistant should not be confused with legal secretaries who don’t share the same responsibilities.

What Do Paralegals Do?

Paralegals can be seen as lawyer’s assistants, they do everything from conducting research on laws and cases to drafting legal documents and collecting evidence to be used in court. They also assist lawyers in getting ready for trial by writing reports, demonstrating exhibits and filing appeals with the opposing counsel. 

Furthermore, paralegals also specialize in areas such as criminal law, family law, real estate law and immigration law. Their duties will vary depending on the area they work in.

What Legal Assistants Do?

The term ‘legal assistant’ is thrown correspondingly with various titles; including administrative assistant, legal secretary, and even paralegal. For a more thorough comparison, we will be using the definition of a legal secretary vs. a paralegal because there are more clear differences between the two.

Legal assistants perform more administrative tasks compared to paralegals. They prepare legal documents such as subpoenas, answer phones, using scheduling software to keep track of appointments and other assistant duties.

Paralegals And Legal Assistants: Skills Needed

Paralegal Skills

  • Litigation
  • Microsoft
  • Legal Documentation
  • Legal Research
  • Legal Document Composition

Legal Assistant Skills

  • Administrative Support
  • Microsoft Office
  • Scheduling
  • Legal Support
  • Data Entry

As you can see, there is a slight overlap in skills but there are specialized skills for each position. Paralegals are more involved with the actual technicalities of the law compared to legal assistants who take undertake broader tasks. 

Paralegals And Legal Assistants: Experience

Almost 58% of paralegal jobs ask for three to five years of experience with only 35% of jobs asking for entry-level, requiring zero to two years of experience. However, being a legal secretary is more convenient for those with less experience working in a law firm as 44% of jobs asking for entry-level.

You can also work as an intern in a law firm to be a paralegal or legal secretary. Once you gain enough experience, the law world is easier to navigate. Lawyers depend on their paralegals and legal assistants so once they have someone they have someone reliable and trustworthy, they are hesitant to make any changes.

Paralegals And Legal Assistants: Educational Requirements

To choose a career, the first step you will need to take is determining what education is needed. Paralegals need a minimum of an undergraduate degree to qualify for this position even if it is not a law one, although, that will help. You can also pursue a Postgraduate paralegal diploma to excel further.

However, to be a legal assistant you don’t need any kind of degree nor complete the Legal Practice Course or any university studies. The most the firms demand is that you at least finish your A levels.

Conclusion

A career in law can be extremely rewarding but with several career options available, it’s important to understand which position you would enjoy most. Now that you are aware of the differences between paralegals and legal assistants, you can begin your journey to your dream career in law.

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