Comparing Paralegal vs lawyer [Overview of The Differences]

Thinking of becoming a Paralegal vs lawyer?

What is the difference between paralegal and lawyer?

What are the important aspects you should know?

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our legal career knowledge!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

Paralegal vs lawyer overview

There can be some confusion between what and who is a paralegal versus a lawyer.

Many also wonder what differentiates paralegals and attorneys.

Many questions come to mind:

  • Is a paralegal a lawyer?
  • Can a paralegal become a lawyer?
  • What is the difference between a paralegal and a lawyer?
  • Do you need a law degree to be a paralegal?

To address some of these questions, let’s briefly do an overview of these two great legal professions.

Paralegal and lawyers have one thing in common: they both are legal professionals trained to practice within the legal profession in some fashion.

A paralegal is a person who is trained in the field of law and typically supports a lawyer in managing a lawsuit, case or handles legal tasks in a law firm.

In substance, a paralegal will perform legal-related tasks and handle legal mandates under the supervision of a lawyer.

A lawyer is a legal professional licensed by the state to practice law and represent individuals and businesses.

A licensed lawyer (or attorney) has the legal authority to act independently and make legal decisions for a client without being supervised by another legal professional, unlike a paralegal.

At the end of the day, whether a lawyer handles a legal mandate alone or with the help of a paralegal, he or she will remain the sole person responsible for the legal matter in regards to the client.

The paralegal will not have a direct responsibility towards the client for tasks delegated to it by the lawyer of record.

Job duties 

Let’s look at the difference between a lawyer vs paralegal with regards to their job duties.

Common duties 

To start with, both lawyers and paralegals share a number of common duties as legal professionals.

They both have the knowledge and training to:

  • Research legal concepts
  • Investigate a legal question or matter
  • Prepare a case or lawsuit
  • Investigate facts of a case
  • Write legal reports
  • File and manage legal documents, exhibits 
  • Organize and schedule depositions 
  • Prepare deposition summaries
  • Write and draft certain legal documents

Differences 

Historically, the profession of paralegal vs attorney was considered to be similar and the terms were even used interchangeably.

However, in the United States, the two legal professions have been clearly differentiated by the National Association of Legal Assistants.

A legal assistant and a lawyer will get different academic certificates or degrees and will be part of different professional associations.

In a nutshell, the most important difference between the job of a paralegal and a lawyer is that one can represent a client while the other one cannot. 

Here are some things lawyers can do that paralegals cannot:

  • Lawyers can represent clients
  • Lawyers have the right to plead on behalf of someone in court 
  • Lawyers can depose witnesses 
  • A lawyer is licensed by the state bar or bar association 
  • The attorney is fully responsible towards the client for handling a case 
  • Paralegals are delegated legal tasks 
  • Paralegals work under the supervision of an attorney

Education 

From an educational and training point of view, you also have differences between a lawyer and a paralegal.

Becoming a lawyer

To become a lawyer, you will need to spend many years studying and get an undergraduate degree from law school.

To go to law school, many universities will require law student candidates to take a Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

The LSAT score will be considered when evaluating an applicant’s profile for admission into the law faculty.

Once the student goes to law school and gets a law degree, the next step is to get a Bar license to practice law.

The bar exams are quite challenging and take many hours of studying and preparation.

Every state will have its own bar exam formats but they all require a lot of preparation.

Once law school is finished, you’ll need to complete an internship under the supervision of a lawyer to eventually become a fully licensed member of the bar.

Becoming a paralegal 

On the other hand, the road to becoming a paralegal is not as long or as strenuous.

To become a paralegal, you’ll typically need an associate’s degree.

Overall, the path to becoming a paralegal is not as long and less costly.

Many wonder and ask if paralegals go to law school.

The short answer is no.

A person can become a paralegal by getting an associate’s degree.

It is possible for someone to start studying to become a paralegal and find out that they are more passionate about becoming an attorney.

In that case, the student in question will need to apply to the law school of its choice and qualify.

Switching from paralegal school to law school may not be easy for all but it is possible.

It will take additional time, commitment and sacrifice to complete a Juris Doctor (JD) degree or to get a law degree.

As such, with the right effort and dedication, a paralegal can become an attorney.

Salary and career 

What are the differences in salary between a paralegal versus lawyer?

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), here are some interesting facts about paralegal vs lawyer salaries:

  • Average of all workers in the US in 2019: $47,000 (average of $22.59 per hour, 40 hours per week)
  • Paralegal median salary in 2018: $51,000 (average of $24,51 per hour, 40 hours per week)
  • Average lawyer salary in 2017: $119,250 (average of $57.33 per hour, 40 hours per week)

Although lawyers are paid more than paralegals, it’s important to consider that getting a high paying job as a lawyer is not easy.

There is a lot of competition between lawyers aspiring to work for the same firms known nationally or internationally.

Paralegals will face less competition in finding a job but will not have the possibility of earning as much as a lawyer can.

Takeaways 

So, let’s summarize our key takeaways in comparing a Paralegal vs lawyer?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Paralegal vs lawyer:

  • Both lawyer and paralegal are legal professionals
  • Paralegals and lawyers can investigate facts, write reports, prepare depositions, draft legal pleading documents, organize file exhibits and perform legal research
  • Lawyers are the only legal professional who can represent clients and plead in a courtroom
  • You can become a paralegal by getting and Associate’s Degree while lawyers need an undergraduate degree from law school and then pass the bar exams 
  • A paralegal and lawyer can have rewarding careers but lawyers tend to make twice as paralegals on average 
  • Lawyers have a more prestigious job title than paralegals 
Attorney vs lawyer
Attorney-client privilege 
Attorney-in-fact 
Law school
Law school programs 
Legal assistant 
Types of lawyers
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