What is the Difference Between a Paralegal and a Lawyer?

While paralegals and lawyers often work in close proximity and in close partnership with one another, they each fill a distinctly different role in the legal industry today. So, what exactly distinguishes each of these roles from the other? Here’s the scoop.

Related resource: 10 Most Affordable Online Associate’s in Paralegal Studies Degree Programs

Lawyer Work

One great way to start to see the various distinctions between lawyer and paralegal work is by taking a look at each line of work separately. Firstly then, let’s take a look at lawyer job duties. What do lawyers do on a daily basis?

Lawyers, also referred to commonly as attorneys, are the lead, professional workers in all legal situations and actions. When a matter must go to court, or even before it makes it there, the lawyer is the legal mind that decides what actions and strategies to take for his represented party’s best interests and/or goals. The lawyer is the utmost trained mind in legal matters and is the individual portrayed in popular culture and media always at work in front of a loaded courtroom.

When not in court, however, lawyers do quite a bit of research work and meet with clients often. They also craft speeches, attend greater legal practice meetings and conferences and even often do some charitable work in and around their respective local communities. Direct court demands do come as the top priority, though, with all other duties coming as secondary priorities.

Paralegal Work

So, what exactly do paralegals do? Paralegals essentially represent the supportive backbones of the legal community, as they are the behind-the-scenes workhorses of most, modern legal practices. In this respect, paralegals, more specifically, are the direct assistants to lawyers. They do bulk research, handle countless, varying clerical needs, interact with clients, coordinate their respective lawyers’ schedules, handle accounting and billing matters for their lawyer, and much more. On the other hand, paralegals do not perform any functions in actual courtroom proceedings, as this is the lawyer’s exclusive duty.

Educational Differences

As these two vocations have their distinctly separate roles, so too do they entail differing educational requirements. Paralegals are typically required to at least obtain an associate’s degree or greater in paralegal studies. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in some cases, they may also need to obtain an additional certification allowing them to work in some jurisdictions.

Much beyond the requirements of paralegals, lawyers must satisfy a number of extensive requirements to start and even maintain a practice in legal accordance. Firstly, all lawyers must be graduates from law school with a doctorate or equivalent, professional degree in law. Next, lawyers must also take and pass their respective state’s bar examination which itself tests their aptitude for practice there. Finally, lawyers must continue to practice in accordance with all of their state’s and American Bar Association’s standards so as to stay in good, legal standing to practice law.

While paralegals and lawyers work separate roles, they do work very dependently of one another. Lawyers represent the forefront face of a practice, in court and otherwise, while paralegals act as the behind-the-scenes workhorses that ultimately set lawyers up for success on their end. These are the basic distinctions between these two, great, legal careers today.