What is a Paralegal VS. a Lawyer?
Within the legal industry, there are different roles and professions. Have you ever found yourself wondering “what is a paralegal vs. a lawyer”? How do job responsibilities differ between the two roles, and what it takes to work in this field? While there are many similarities between the two careers, there are also some key differences. If you want to work in the legal field, having a better understanding of these roles can help you make more informed decisions about which career path best suits you.
WHAT DO PARALEGALS DO?
Paralegals and attorneys often handle many of the same job responsibilities. However, paralegals perform their roles under the supervision of one or more licensed attorneys, assisting them with a range of legal tasks. Some of the most common work assignments include:
- Conducting legal research
- Meeting with clients
- Organizing client files
- Managing calendars
- Taking statements from witnesses
- Drafting legal documents and filings
- Preparing correspondence
- Assisting attorneys with trial preparation
- Coordinating and helping with depositions, hearings, and trials
While many paralegals work in law firms, others work in corporate legal departments, insurance companies, financial services organizations, as well as in government agencies.
WHAT DO LAWYERS DO?
Licensed attorneys, particularly in solo practices or small law firms, often handle all of the paralegal responsibilities identified above. In addition, lawyers are responsible for:
- Providing legal advice to clients
- Representing clients in legal proceedings
- Setting legal fees
- Developing and implementing strategies designed to help meet clients’ needs
- Interpreting and applying legal research to clients’ legal matters
- Preparing and filing legal documents, including lawsuits, responses, contracts, and wills and trusts
HOW DO PARALEGALS’ JOB RESPONSIBILITIES DIFFER FROM LAWYERS’ RESPONSIBILITIES?
There are a number of similarities between what lawyers do and what paralegals do. Both roles typically interact with clients, and both engage in legal research and writing tasks. However, paralegals are not allowed to provide legal advice to clients, set legal fees, or represent clients in legal proceedings. In addition, paralegals must work under the supervision of licensed attorneys.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A PARALEGAL?
Becoming an attorney requires completing a juris doctor (law) degree and being admitted to practice law by one or more states. In contrast, an aspiring paralegal can qualify for a career in the field through formal education, training, and experience gained while working for one or more lawyers. At the national level, there is not a standardized education requirement for paralegals. However, some states have implemented education and/or initial certification requirements as well as continuing education standards for paralegals.
Aspiring paralegals can meet such requirements by earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies and by pursuing certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). Earning a degree or pursuing a formal paralegal certification can demonstrate to prospective employers that you have the requisite knowledge, skills, and dedication to the legal field to be a valuable addition to their law firm or corporate legal department. Paralegal courses will help you:
- Understand legal terminology
- Learn how to conduct legal research
- Improve writing skills
- Enhance critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
- Prepare legal documents
- Identify and avoid potential ethical pitfalls
GENERATIONS COLLEGE PREPARES STUDENTS FOR SUCCESSFUL PARALEGAL CAREERS
Pursuing a role in the legal field as either a paralegal or an attorney takes time and effort, but the result can be a long, successful, and rewarding career. Generations College, based in the heart of Chicago, has been educating paralegals since 1973 and is proud to offer the oldest two-year Paralegal Studies program in Illinois.