Paralegal vs. Legal Assistant

Paralegal vs. Legal Assistant

It is quite common for people to refer to paralegals as legal assistants or legal secretaries unaware that there are differences in the tasks and job descriptions.  In fact, one of the reasons for this confusion is that many members of the legal community use the terms interchangeably.

The legal field is slowly but surely making efforts to distinguish between these positions.  This has been aided by national paralegal professional associations.

The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a paralegal as “a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”

A paralegal is an individual who performs substantive legal work on behalf and under the direct supervision of an attorney only after they have acquired the skills through the combination of education, training and work experience.  One of the big dividing lines between a paralegal and a legal assistant is the attorney’s ability to bill a client for hours of work conducted by a paralegal.

A legal assistant or a legal secretary is a paralegal assistant.  They perform more administrative tasks and their time is not billed to the client except under extraordinary circumstances.

When analyzing the paralegal vs. legal assistant job descriptions and duties, the easiest way to tell the difference is by determining whether or not their labor is billed directly to the firm’s clients.

Thus, the industry trend is to designate individuals who have completed a certain level of schooling and/or earned certification through a paralegal studies program as paralegals.

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