Paralegal vs Lawyer – What’s the Difference?

If you are dealing with some legal issues, you will very likely quickly find out that lawyers charge quite the hourly rate.

In fact, in Australia, the hourly rate in most urban areas is between $200 and $400. That’s no laughing matter!

Given that hefty fee, you may be wondering if a paralegal could take care of the tasks you need done.

So what are the differences between attorneys and paralegals?

Keep reading to find out!

The differences between paralegal vs lawyer

To put it simply, the biggest differences between paralegal versus lawyer is the education necessary and the licensing invovled. To be an attorney, one must attend and complete a Juris Doctor (JD) or Bachelor of Law (LLB). After that you have to complete practical legal training, gain admission to a legal practice, and earn your practising certificate.

On top of that, attorneys are required to undergo stringent morality examis, pay annual fees, participate in ongoing legal education requirements, abide by a strict ethical standard, and much more.

When it comes to paralegals, it is not as formalized and the process is far less strict.

The first step to becoming a paralegal is to undergo some form of formal education – in fact a lot of universities and even community colleges offer training in how to become a paralegal. It is becoming increasingly popular for employers to require paralegals to possess a four–year degree or bachelor’s degree.

Paralegals are essentially able to research and draft the majority of legal documents and often assist attorneys with the day-to-day operations of a law firm. That includes scheduling hearings, interacting with clients, and keeping case files and evidence in order.

While paralegals are not allow to offer legal advice to clients and cannot independently prepare legal documents that have not been approved by an attorney, they can get the ball rolling on getting you what you need to be on top of.

What is an independent paralegal?

When it comes to the question of paralegal vs lawyer, it is important to know that most paralegals work directly for lawyers. There are, however, independent paralegals that you can hire for a fraction of the price that lawyers charge hourly.

An independent paralegal, which is also often referred to as a freelance professional, is a non-attorney legal professional who can provide different types of legal document services to patrons for a fee without be under the supervision of an attorney.

While this can be all you need in some cases, it is important to know what these independent paralegals can and cannot do.

Since the paralegal is not working directly under an attorney, there are some strict limitations on what they are lawfully allowed to do.

For example, they are not able to practice law but they can help you with less demanding tasks that do not require a need for legal advice – as only lawyers can do that.

While providing legal advice is not against the law, it is important that a paralegal is careful when it comes to how their patron takes and utilizes the legal advice.

What services are they allowed to provide?

If you are interested in hiring a paralegal, you have to be very careful to be sure that a paralegal can actually benefit you.

In order for your need to qualify as something a paralegal can actually help you.

Essentially, in order for a paralegal to serve a purpose without the need of an attorney, you need to already know what you want when it comes to your legal matter and all you need for someone to locate, retrieve, and fill out the necessary legal forms.

Other proceedings that the paralegal may be able to help you with include matters such as estate planning, probate filings, powers of attorney, bankruptcy petitions, straightforward uncontested divorce forms.

Other tasks that paralegals can complete include:

  • Case planning, development, and management
  • Legal research, fact gathers and information retrieval
  • Drafting correspondence
  • Drafting pleasings, document responses and discoveries
  • Contacting and conferencing clients
  • Analyzing and summarizing documents
  • Fact checking
  • Preparing for and assisting at trial
  • Locating and interviewing witnesses

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you want to hire a paralegal for any basic legal matters that you need but do not require advice in those matters, be sure that you choose the right person for the job.

According to the National Federation of Paralegal Association, consumers should choose a professional who has no less than a paralegal certificate when they want someone other than a lawyer to perform legal and law-related tasks. This certificate at least proves that the professional that you are interested in working with is both trained in and knowledgeable about the law and related procedures.

In short, the choice to hire a paralegal and forgo hiring an attorney can absolutely be a smart one as long as you know what you need them for and as long as you do the research ne cessary to succeed.

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