Many people often wonder what the paralegal/legal assistant definition is. While often confused, paralegal and legal assistant jobs are two distinct but necessary parts of any law firm.
A legal assistant’s job is primarily administrative and doesn’t require formal training or certification. A legal assistant or secretary may answer phones, schedule appointments, provide customer service, transcribe reports or meetings and provide general office and administrative duties as required. Legal assistants are considered a more junior position than paralegals and can allow someone to gain vital experience in the field before becoming a paralegal.
The job of a paralegal can be significantly more complicated. In smaller firms, a paralegal may perform double duties as a legal assistant and conduct administrative tasks around the office. Still, in general, they are much more involved in the legal process.
Paralegals work closely with the lawyers reporting directly to them and may be tasked to research laws and cases, prepare a trial notebook or organize case files. They may draft correspondences and conduct client and witness interviews. A paralegal is a lawyer’s right-hand person and must have an excellent grasp of the intricacies of the law.
There are even limited scenarios where paralegals are permitted to represent someone on their own such as small claims courts, summary convictions where the maximum penalty does not exceed a six-month prison sentence, or before administrative tribunals. Paralegals may give legal advice concerning legal proceedings or any subject matter of a proceeding. They may be asked to draft documents to be used in a proceeding or negotiate on behalf of a client in one.
Because of these responsibilities, paralegals in Ontario must pass an examination and be certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada. There are paralegal and legal assistants courses like that at Cestar College that are accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada that will allow you to pass this exam.
In summary, while both legal assistants and paralegals play a key role in law firms, paralegal jobs are significantly more complex. They can often encompass that of a legal assistant while including additional duties on top. Legal assistants are limited to administrative and general office duties, while paralegals often work closely with lawyers on their present cases.