What's the Difference Between a Legal Assistant and a Paralegal?

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    f you’re interested in the legal field, you might be wondering which career you want to pursue. There are many important roles in this industry, and surprising to many people it’s not all about lawyers and judges.

    In this blog, we’ll compare the roles of a legal assistant vs a paralegal. 

    What is a legal assistant? 

    Legal assistants are the ones who help lawyers deliver legal services. They can work in various kinds of law services which include litigation, advisory services, commercial and real estate transactions. Many of their actual duties entail locating and compiling information, drafting, preparing, and proofreading legal and administrative documents. 

    Some of these documents can include:

    • Contracts 
    • Acts
    • Complaints
    • Legal opinions
    • Procedures
    • And much more

    The work of legal assistants can vary depending on where they work, but most also do administrative tasks to help ensure everything is organized and maintained. 

    Legal assistants can work in multiple places such as: 

    • Law offices
    • Legal departments
    • Courts
    • The federal department of justice
    • Real estate companies and many more

    The best way to enter this field is by getting a legal assistant diploma

    Parlegal course icon
    Image by vectorjuice on Freepik

    What are the duties of a legal assistant? 

    Legal assistants can have many different duties. These include preparing correspondence and legal documents, trust documents, contracts, wills, mortgages, affidavits, briefs, and more. They need to be familiar with skills such as word processing, using spreadsheets, databases, and presentation software. 

    They also perform more clerical duties such as answering the phone, scheduling appointments and making sure meetings are scheduled appropriately, being the first point of contact for visitors at the law office, and handling other related business. 

    What is a paralegal? 

    Paralegals have a little more freedom than legal assistants. They have the ability to do independent legal work as long as they are under the supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals handle many different tasks, which can include: 

    • Performing extensive legal research
    • Compiling documents for court and/or client consultations
    • Drafting court documents
    • Assist lawyers in preparation for mediation and judicial dispute resolutions
    • Assist lawyers by interviewing clients, witnesses and other related parties, 
    • Assembling documentary evidence
    • Preparing trial briefs, and arranging for trials

    They can also specialize in certain areas of the law including criminal law (up to a certain extent), immigration law, environmental law, provincial law, and more. They can have different tasks and duties or specific responsibilities based on the area of law they are working in. 

    What are the duties of a paralegal? 

    Paralegals have a myriad of responsibilities, including but not limited to drafting legal documents, pleadings, wills, affidavits, and more. They also draft and follow up on correspondence, submit documents for registration such as land titles, conduct different types of legal searches, and assist in various aspects of laws. 

    Depending on the jurisdiction, paralegals also have the ability to represent clients in courts for certain minor cases. They have a unique role where they assist but can also perform lawyer-adjacent duties from time to time. 

    So what's the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant?

    a lady thing about paralegal course
    Image by jcomp on Freepik

    How are legal assistants and paralegals similar or different?

    There are a few ways how legal assistants and paralegals differ from each other. Most of the time a paralegal is the one who will undertake research for the trials, interview witnesses who may be involved with the case and draft the statements, arguments, questions for cross-examination, and other documents for the lawyers to use in the courtroom. 

    The legal assistant’s work is more administrative and is often related more to general office work. They organize files for the trial and for lawyers to review. They’re engaged with timing, scheduling, and assisting clients, witnesses, and other parties and can work for both lawyers and paralegals. 

    How to pick between being a paralegal or legal assistant?

    You may be wondering which one of these careers is right for you. A quick way to narrow it down is to consider which areas of law you are interested in. 

    The first thing to consider is which area of the law suits you. This is a big deal breaker, if you enjoy working in many different sectors and have no preference, then being a legal assistant might be a better fit for you. 

    If you’re someone who wants to work in a specialized field and have a little more freedom to do legal work with minimal supervision, then pursuing a paralegal route would be best for you. 

    How to become a legal assistant in Canada 

    The minimum education for becoming a legal assistant is getting one-year post-secondary training from a legal assistant course. You will want to enroll in a program that offers a practicum near the end so you can get hands-on experience before entering the workforce . Nowadays, many people are pursuing a legal assistant certificate online so they have the flexibility to attain their education in a way that works for them. After that, you are free to find work as a legal assistant.

    How to become a paralegal in Canada 

    Becoming a paralegal takes longer than becoming a legal assistant, with diploma programs for this profession being two or even three years long. In some provinces, as a paralegal, you need to study for the paralegal licensing exam and attain your license before you can start practicing. 

    Get the right legal assistant training 

    Looking to fast-track your career to becoming a legal assistant? ABM College’s legal assistant diploma online program will prepare you for a successful career as a legal assistant in just 54 weeks. Our diploma program has a built-in practicum to help our students get the experience they need. . 

    Learn more about the program and how ABM College can help you with your career goals by contacting us today.

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