Are you considering a career hiring a paralegal or a legal assistant and wondering what the differences are between the two jobs? For many years, the two terms were used interchangeably and did many of the same tasks. In recent years, many law firms have begun using the term legal assistant to describe legal secretaries by the term legal assistant.
In reality, there are major differences between what a legal secretary does and the tasks performed by a paralegal. Paralegal professional organizations are taking steps to clarify exactly what legal assistants and paralegals do and what legal secretaries do.
The courts do not differentiate between paralegals and legal assistants. The term paralegal describes an individual who has completed extensive education and training. These legal professionals are qualified to perform legal work under the supervision and guidance of an attorney.
A certified paralegal designation is awarded to those who have passed the National Association of Legal Assistants exam. Only these individuals may use the title Paralegal. Others performing the same tasks must use the term legal assistants.
Both legal assistants and paralegals take care of many duties that attorneys don’t have time for. These professionals draft pleadings, leases, contracts, and other legal documents. They also conduct legal research and help with trial preparation. They often meet with clients if the attorney is not available.
Paralegals and legal assistants cannot provide legal advice. They are also not authorized to sign legal documents. These must be reviewed and signed by a lawyer.
Many law firms bill the legal assistant’s or paralegal’s time to their clients just as they do their own time. Most paralegals and legal assistants are paid a set salary.
The duties of a legal secretary are usually more limited. These professionals usually organize files, do computer work, and draft correspondence. They may also transcribe the lawyer’s notes.
Paralegals and legal assistants perform many of the same tasks. Paralegals usually have additional professional certifications.
For more information on the role of paralegals in legal offices, check out the video below.