Legal Assistant vs Paralegal: Here’s What You Need to Know

Legal Assistant vs Paralegal by Definition

Once upon a time, the terms legal assistant and paralegal were used interchangeably. However, in 2020 the American Bar Association amended the definition of a paralegal to remove the term legal assistant. Now that the two roles have been separated by definition, we’re going to explore the difference between the two and provide some insight into which career you might want to pursue.

Legal Assistant Job Description

A legal assistant performs general administrative and clerical duties. These include tasks such as answering phones, filing, scheduling appointments and completing documents. Managing and organizing legal documents is a substantial part of this role and conducting legal research, communicating with court officials and clients, assisting with billing and accounting services, and any other help that the overseeing lawyers might require. A legal assistant’s role is essential to ensure that the daily operations run smoothly and efficiently.

Paralegal Job Description

A paralegal will have some overlapping duties to those of a legal assistant. However, the role of a paralegal leans more toward legal operations. A paralegal will draft legal documents, including contracts, briefs, subpoenas, pleadings, and notices. They will conduct legal research and interview clients and witnesses. A key responsibility for a paralegal would be to support an attorney during court hearings, trials, depositions and estate closings and is responsible for filing documents with applicable court systems. See the American Bar Association’s current definition of a paralegal.

Legal Assistant vs Paralegal

Paralegal Education Requirements

If you are interested in pursuing a career as a paralegal, a degree is required; however, you do not need to hold a law degree. A hiring practice will be looking for specialized training as a paralegal on top of your existing education. It would be beneficial to pursue a degree in legal studies or a related field to become familiar with the law and legal practices

Legal Assistant Education Requirements

A legal assistant generally holds an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. Due to a demanding job market, it is likely that a law practice will require a bachelor’s degree in paralegal or legal studies.

Legal Assistant vs Paralegal Salaries

Indeed.com shares that in 2022 the average annual salary for a legal assistant is $42,573 per year while paralegals earn $49,177 per year. Compensation will vary with experience and education, so the more specialized you can get in your field, the better. Consider researching resources and educational institutions in your state for updated information on course offerings and requirements.

What is the Difference Between a Law Clerk and a Paralegal?

To expand on these roles, you might be wondering where a law clerk fits into all of this. In both cases, a paralegal and law clerk work for law firms. Law clerks tend to serve under judges, while paralegals work under the supervision of attorneys. Neither can offer legal advice and are responsible for gathering information and organizing processes to assist attorneys in performing their duties.

Legal Assistant vs Paralegal. Education is key.

Law Clerk Educational Requirements

A law clerk will have a more robust educational background, for example, a Master of Law degree. Taken from, ParalegalEDU “Because most judges require law clerks to be recent law school graduates, generally, law clerks possess a master’s degree in law, a specialized legal master’s degree (e.g., public policy or international law), or a Juris Doctor (JD) degree.”

If you have a passion for law and are looking for a career change, these jobs might be perfect for you. And, because they come with varying requirements, you might already carry sufficient education to get started in these fields. The next step would be to look into specializing in a field such as estate planning, family law, government or immigration law, and then reaching out to practices that are looking for those specializations.

A growing sector to consider in the digital space is intellectual property law. If you have a marketing degree or business degree, you could expand into law and help leaders and creators in the online marketing world protect intellectual property such as graphics and art, books, ideas, and branding assets.

Would you like to learn more about becoming a paralegal? You can continue to read more with our article on becoming a paralegal and what does it?

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