Although they have similar names, paralegals and legal assistants actually have very different jobs. While they both can provide lasting and fulfilling careers in the legal field, choosing between the two really starts with understanding the differences. Below we will take a look at the differences between paralegals and legal assistants and help you determine which career path is the right choice for you.
Let’s first start with some definitions:
What’s a Paralegal?
Paralegals are an essential part of the legal system as they work closely with lawyers and government agencies to prepare legal documents and provide investigative work on cases. Although paralegals are heavily trained in the law, they’re not fully qualified as lawyers.
What’s a Legal Assistant?
While legal assistants are still an important part of the legal system, their work is administrative in nature and doesn’t require nearly as much knowledge of the law. Legal assistants are often interchangeably called legal secretaries.
Now that you understand the basics of legal assistants vs paralegals, let’s breakdown the more detailed differences.
What are the Main Differences Between Paralegals and Legal Assistants?
Because paralegals are heavily involved in legal procedures and processes, they must be trained accordingly. Paralegals perform the work that lawyers would need to do in the absence of paralegals, so they’re educated in legal research, legal writing, the legal application of computers, corporate law and international law. Paralegals often have associates or bachelors degrees because they are required to have such a deep understanding of the law.
Unlike paralegals, legal secretaries don’t necessarily need a college degree. There are online legal secretary courses however, that will teach you how to perform the duties of legal assistants and increase your chances of landing a legal assistant job.
It’s important to note that you can start in a legal assistant role and work within your law office or government agency to progress and move into a paralegal role. Oftentimes law offices will pay for paralegal education if they see the potential benefit of you in a paralegal role. Of course, you can always get a jumpstart on your paralegal education with an online training course.
As you may have guessed, the largest differences between paralegals and legal secretaries are their daily roles and responsibilities.
Paralegals commonly conduct investigative and legal research, organize evidence for legal hearings and draft documents. Their job is specifically to help lawyers prepare for trials and hearings by providing background research and documentation to help them win their case. Paralegals can frequently be found taking notes for their lawyers during meetings and hearings and calling clients, witnesses and other lawyers to prepare for trial.
To do their jobs successfully paralegals must have strong communication, organizational and research skills. Paralegals also must be skilled in legal terminology, typing, analyzing data and researching.
Legal assistants or legal secretaries also work to help lawyers prepare for their trials but in a much more administrative role. Legal assistants can be found organizing working files and documents, and scheduling meetings for the attorney and paralegal. On a daily basis, a legal assistant checks clients in for their meetings, answers the phone and takes messages, and collects information from clients.
Similarly to paralegals, legal assistants must have strong communication and organizational skills, as well as a strong secretarial background in things like typing, note-taking and online researching.
Now we’re down to the most important consideration for many job seekers: salary potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of a paralegal starts is around $49,500 a year and can go up above $100,000 for those in management positions at larger law firms. Legal assistants, however, will most likely only earn around $34,660 a year and there, unfortunately, isn’t as much room for upward growth.
Although the salary of a paralegal can seem much more attractive, it’s important to remember the differences in education level between paralegals and legal assistants. As we mentioned above, paralegals typically have associates or bachelors degrees, which come with their own set of debts that must be repaid. The caliber of work that paralegals perform is much more intensive and detail-oriented, which is reflected in that higher salary range.
Because of the high education and knowledge threshold paralegals must pass before working in their profession, it’s a lot more difficult to become a paralegal than to become a legal assistant. If you’re looking for an easier way to break into the legal field, a legal assistant role might be your best option.
Which Career Option is Right for You?
Now that you understand the differences between the roles, do you know which is the better choice for you and what steps you should take to get there?
If you’re looking to become a paralegal, our Paralegal Training Course should be your first step. Likewise, if becoming a legal assistant is the better choice for you, our Legal Secretary Training will help you prepare for that role. Start your training course today!