Paralegal Assistants versus Legal Assistants

There is often a lot of confusion between about the duties of a paralegal assistant vs. legal assistant, and what the different credentialing requirements are for these positions. Professional certification as a paralegal or a legal assistant is essentially the same, and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) has confirmed that there really is no difference between paralegal assistants versus legal assistants. The NALA has stated that the terms "legal assistant" and "paralegal" are actually synonymous, and that lawyers and attorneys typically use one term over the other in the professional workplace. Professionals in this field usually complete an ABA approved paralegal program or paralegal studies at an accredited school.

Training Requirements of Paralegal Assistants versus Legal Assistants

While there is often a question about the duties and responsibilities of paralegal assistants versus legal assistants, it's important to remember that these are just labels for the same position and that the individual performing the duties must still meet certain professional standards and have some formal training in the field. While certification is not required to become a paralegal or a legal assistant, it is preferred by most employers.

For example, some paralegals and legal assistants choose to complete the NLA's Certified Legal Assistant program so that they receive the CLA or CP credential. This tells employers that they have completed a program that complies with national professional standards for legal assistants, and have worked through a program that encourages a very high level of achievement.

Both paralegal assistants and legal assistants provide a high level of administrative support for an attorney, but also play an instrumental role in preparing cases, dealing with clients and handling many of the attorney's tasks. Paralegals and legal assistants are not permitted to provide legal advice to clients at any time, however. They must abide by a strict code of ethics and maintain a high degree of professionalism throughout their career.

ABA Definition of Paralegal vs. Legal Assistant

The American Bar Association (ABA) also does not distinguish between the paralegal assistant vs. legal assistant positions. The ABA defines both positions as follows: "A legal assistant or paralegal is a person, qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity and who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible."

The ABA also does not even identify a difference between the paralegal assistant vs. legal assistant and does use both terms interchangeably. Many attorneys and law firms do the same. Some states have looked into the issue to determine whether there should be a difference in the definition of paralegal assistant vs. legal assistant, but for now, both terms hold the same weight and do carry the same meaning.

Many people wonder what the differences are between paralegal assistants and legal assistants, but soon find that both terms are used interchangeably. When you're searching for educational programs in this field, you'll probably find programs that are described as both paralegal training programs and legal assistant training programs. Make sure the one you select is an ABA approved paralegal program and is offered at an accredited institution.