Legal Assistant or Paralegal?

Deciding whether to qualify as a Legal Assistant or a Paralegal may be one decision which changes the course of a career.  To decide, it is important to know the difference between both professions.

Legal Assistants still remain an important employee of law firms.  They are relied upon to give administration/secretarial back up to lawyers and other legal personnel.  Good typing speeds and word processing skills are essential for this job.  They are also required to know some legal matters such as making applications, completing various forms whether for divorces, property transactions or mortgage applications.  Such knowledge can be learnt on the job if they are able to find attorneys prepared to given them the necessary training on the job.  These days, most lawyers expect their legal assistants to have such skills and knowledge beforehand.

Accuracy is another prequisite.  It cannot be over emphasised the importance of typing the correct figures within Wills, or to 'now accept the terms and condition' rather than 'not accept the terms and conditions'.  As minor as these may seem, they can be extremely detrimental to the outcome of a case and to whether you keep your job or not.

The level of legal knowledge which assistants must possess varies depending on the position they hold.  If they are being employed at Partner-level, they must have lots of legal working experience.  If they are being employed to work for a junior lawyer or a trainee, their level of experience does not have to be the same.

How do you acquire the legal knowledge and skills to get employed as a Legal Assistant?  As a general rule, most assistant courses will teach typing skills, word processing, excel, office practise and filing.  We specialise in Conversion Courses for Legal Assistants.  Once you have gained your secretarial skills, we will teach you the legal aspects such as Conveyancing, Litigation and so on.

Many Legal Assistants are now upgrading to Paralegals.  There should, therefore, be an abundance of job opportunities for qualified Legal Assistants.

Paralegals, on the other hand are employed not as administrators but as legal fee earners assisting barristers and solicitors.  Their knowledge of law does not have to be on par with that of qualified lawyers but they must be fully competent to work in whichever field of law they choose.  They do not have to cover the same law syllabus as lawyers and they can specialise in one or two areas of law.  They must also have overall knowledge of the Canadian legal system, including the nature of Contracts, Criminal Law and more.  They must also know Procedural law which can cover Immigration, Wills, Conveyancing, Criminal Litigation, Civil Litigation, Divorces or other aspects.

The role of a paralegal differs in Ontario to that of other provinces.  In Ontario, they are governed by the Law Society which also govern the profession for barristers and solicitors.  The Law Society has implemented several code of conduct for paralegals and one is that they must be licensed in order to practise in Ontario as Paralegals.  In all other provinces, they work under supervision of qualified lawyers, providing lower operating costs to members of the public - Paralegals in the Provinces.  They do not face such restrictions as in Ontario.  They are able to qualify in different ways to that in Ontario.  This bodes very well for paralegals in these provinces as students everywhere, regardless of location, can study, qualify and work as paralegals without the restrictions seen in Ontario.

Whichever path you choose to follow, you will be entering a profession which should prove to be not only interesting but also very rewarding.  It is also worth bearing in mind that regardless of whichever path you begin with, you can always upgrade to progress your career.