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Legal Assistant vs Paralegal: What’s The Difference?

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    f you’re interested in the legal field, you may be wondering which role you want to pursue. There are many important roles in this field which are not just limited to being a lawyer.

    In this blog, we’ll go over the roles of a legal assistant vs a paralegal, and which one you should consider as your career choice. 

    What is a legal assistant? 

    Legal assistants are often concerned with performing administrative duties and tasks. They can work in different environments including law offices, legal departments, courts, justice departments, insurance companies, real estate companies, land title offices, and more. The best way to enter this field is by getting a legal assistant diploma. 

    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. 

    The job of a legal assistant also entails organizing and collecting evidence for lawyer review, speaking with witnesses and clients, and organizing and maintaining filing systems. 

    What is a paralegal? 

    Paralegals are entitled to a bit more freedom with the ability to do independent legal work under the general supervision of a lawyer. Paralegals assist with more complex matters and are more focused on routine legal tasks and functions rather than administrative work. 

    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. 

    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. 

    Which one of these careers should you pursue? 

    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. 

    Another thing to consider is the type of work that you want to do. Do you want to have more freedom with the type of work that you do, or would you rather be focused mostly on administrative tasks?

    In provinces like Ontario, you can register your legal practice for areas such as traffic tickets, and with experience even become an adjudicator. If that’s the route you’d like to follow you may choose to pursue a paralegal diploma instead. 

    However, if you’re interested in helping out in areas of real estate law, wills and estates, and family law, then, becoming familiar with legal assistant jobs is the way to go in most cases. 

    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 real-life experience before entering the field. 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. Offered online and with a practicum after taking classes, you can hone your abilities to thrive in this role. 

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

    You can also visit our blog for more information about becoming a legal assistant. 

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