Paralegal vs. Lawyer: What You Need to Know

September 30th, 2021 / By Eastern College

Do you have a passion for law and for helping people? There are many great reasons to pursue a career in law and being a lawyer is not your only option for an exciting and interesting career in the field. There are lots of choices and career opportunities working as a paralegal or as a legal assistant. The benefits of being a paralegal include having more control of your work-life balance (in comparison with lawyers), constantly learning something new, several types of law to explore, and good return on investment (cost of a paralegal program vs. salary).   

Becoming a paralegal is a great stepping stone to becoming a lawyer (think Rachel Zane from Suits). It is not uncommon for paralegals to also enroll in law school part-time while continuing to work, gain experience, and pay off student debt. Read on to discover more about the two professions: paralegal vs. lawyer.

What is a Paralegal? 

The prefix ‘para’ means ‘alongside’, ‘beside’, or ‘side by side’.  A paralegal works under the guidance and direction of a lawyer and assists with day-to-day duties and various legal responsibilities. 

The definition of a paralegal from the Canadian Association of Legal Assistants (CAP) is as follows: “A “paralegal” is an individual qualified through education, training or work experience, who is employed or whose services have been retained by a legal professional, law firm, governmental agency, private or public corporation or other entity in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the supervision of a legal professional, of substantive legal work, which may include administrative or managerial duties, requiring sufficient knowledge of legal concepts.”

What are the Job Responsibilities of a Paralegal?

In this occupation, exact duties may vary. Some job titles include ‘Paralegal’, ‘Legal Assistant’, ‘Legal Secretary’, ‘Case Manager’, ‘Compliance Specialist’, and ‘Court Administrative Assistance.’  

The duties of a paralegal can further vary depending on the firm and the area of law you are working for such as real estate, personal injury, immigration, intellectual property, bankruptcy, criminal, and family law.  

Below are some of the common tasks carried out by a paralegal:

  • Interview clients and witnesses   
  • Conduct legal research   
  • Draft reports 
  • Investigate the facts of a case 
  • Prepare documents for filing with the court and other legal documents such as wills, contracts, and mortgages 
  • Collect and organize evidence to be used in court  
  • File and organize important paperwork

In addition to these tasks, a paralegal often attends depositions, trials, and real estate closings in attendance with a lawyer. To become a great paralegal you need to be organized, detail-oriented, have good communication skills, and excellent research and writing skills. 

To maintain high ethical standards, the Paralegal Rules of Conduct states that a paralegal must disclose that he or she is a paralegal with a client, lawyer, and to a court. Similar to attorneys, they also must maintain professional integrity, honesty, and client confidentiality in all areas of legal work including government agency, corporate, civil, and criminal.

Top Tip: In the job search process make sure to review the job responsibilities carefully and ask during an interview what your role would be if you were hired.  

Can Paralegals Practice Law?  

To become a lawyer, you must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), go to law school, and pass the provincial bar examination. Only licensed lawyers can give legal advice, sign legal documents, represent parties in court, and address the judge, jury, or witnesses.   

A paralegal, however, does not have to go to law school but depending on the province, the employment requirements may vary. In New Brunswick, no license is required in order for paralegals to work legally. However, in Ontario, you must be licensed by the Law Society of Ontario to work as a paralegal. 

Paralegals often do a lot of the legal legwork and preparation for a case — they assist lawyers and can accompany them in court. It is not uncommon to have an overlap in the work of a lawyer and a paralegal.

Top Tip: Employment requirements for a paralegal vary from province to province. Check to see if your college is aligned with government regulations. 

How Much Do Paralegals Make? 

Lawyers get paid more than paralegals, but they also have to invest more time in school and take on higher education costs.

A Paralegal’s salary can vary by area of practice, location, and where they choose to work. Canadian paralegals usually earn anywhere between $17.50 to $47.69 per hour. According to Job Bank Canada, the highest average median wages are earned in Calgary, Alberta at $35.71 per hour. The median wages in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are $21.98 per hour.

Top Tip: While education and experience are both important — experience is key! Make sure the paralegal program you enroll in offers field experience.

How to Become a Paralegal

Paralegals play an important role in the success of an organization. Now that you’re aware of the job role, career paths, and compensation, you are probably wondering, “How can I become a paralegal?” A great first step is to acquire a paralegal qualification. This will provide you with the skills and confidence needed to succeed in the field and can be completed in as few as 18 months. This will also help you gain a well-rounded understanding of Canada’s legal system so you can choose a law specialty that best fits your personality and career goals.

Ready to start your journey? Learn more about our Paralegal Program in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.