Paralegal vs. Legal Assistant: What’s the Difference? 

While the terms paralegal and legal assistant are often used reciprocally, the two positions are quite different. Not only does each position have unique duties and responsibilities, but the requirements to become a paralegal or a legal assistant differ substantially. 

To better explain these two positions, in the below guide, we will go over the key differences between a paralegal and a legal assistant, including their primary duties and the skills and education each possesses.

paralegal and legal assistant review law firm documents

What is a Paralegal?

A paralegal is a legal position that works side-by-side with a lawyer. Whether independently or semi-independently, this position offers technical support for lawyers and assists with different client-related tasks. A paralegal also becomes a secondary point of contact for a client after the attorney decides to take on a case. 

In addition, while some paralegals may perform some administrative duties, this position is usually responsible for critical legal tasks, including the following:

  • Handling legal research
  • Contacting clients
  • Performing client interviews 
  • Drafting pleadings, documents, and other correspondence for the attorney
  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Attending legal proceedings with the attorney 
  • Compiling exhibits for lawyers
  • Summarizing depositions and interrogatories
  • Billing clients for the work done

 

Paralegals can also specialize in certain areas of law, such as immigration, criminal, or family law.

What is a Legal Assistant?

A legal assistant is an individual that also works closely with an attorney. However, they will usually not perform the same in-depth legal work that paralegals may perform. Instead, a legal assistant will usually handle the administrative side when helping a law firm. 

This often means that they will perform the following tasks:

  • Prepare documents and proofread correspondence
  • Assist with operational tasks
  • Greet clients
  • Answer phone calls
  • Keep track of appointments for the lawyer or paralegal
  • Send out bills and resolve billing issues
  • Organize evidence and documents for the attorney to review
  • Schedule witness interviews
  • Maintain filing systems
  • Provide other administrative support

 

Depending on the firm, this position can also be referred to as a legal secretary or an administrative assistant. 

The Main Differences Between a Paralegal and Legal Assistant

Although both positions have essential duties and serve as law firm support staff, their final goals differ. While legal assistants will be mainly responsible for administrative tasks, paralegals will be heavily involved with legal matters. However, those are not the only main differences between the two. In addition:

Education

Another key difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant is the education involved in becoming each of these positions. Paralegals usually have an associate's or bachelor's degree or a post-degree certificate, while legal secretaries typically have a certificate or degree from a two-year junior college or vocational school. However, this degree or certificate may not always be necessary. Some legal assistants enter the profession through an internship or a secretarial position and learn the workings of the job.

Skills

Although there is some overlap between the two positions, in general, paralegals are usually involved with tasks that are more legally technical, while legal assistants have a more comprehensive range of duties. Consequently, each position has a different set of skills that are required, including the following: Paralegal skills usually involve legal documentation, legal composition, legal research, and litigation. Legal assistant skills generally include legal support, data entry, scheduling, and other administrative duties.

Back Office Outsourcing for Law Firms

Even though law firms may realize that both of these positions are critical for the overall success of their firm, some smaller or mid-size firms may struggle with affording both of these positions or not have enough work to justify hiring both a paralegal and legal assistant.

Fortunately, at Back Office Legal, we are here to solve this problem for you. When you work with our team, you will not have to employ both of these positions. Rather, you can outsource specific duties to an experienced back office professional who can provide you with the help you need at a much lower price.

For instance, our team is ready to provide you with the following services:

 

At Back Office Legal, we are here to support law firms with their legal back office services, help with operations, and maximize revenue in the process. That is why if you are not sure what type of legal help your law office needs, contact Back Office Legal today for a free consultation and let our team go over with you the difference between a paralegal and a legal assistant and show you how we can help you with their tasks.

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