Are Paralegals Lawyers?
Paralegals are a growing profession. As the legal field continues to expand and offer new services, it has become necessary to have support staff that is equipped with a firm grasp of the law but also understands how those laws can be practically implemented. Paralegals, then, are a great solution for attorneys and law firms looking to streamline their operations and have support staff that can dive into the nitty-gritty of each case.
With paralegals being so essential for lawyers these days, you might be wondering if you should become one yourself. Are paralegals lawyers? The answer is more nuanced than you might think. A paralegal is not necessarily a lawyer, but they often work side by side with them during their respective careers. Both professions operate differently but in similar fields — as such, there certainly are paralegals who are lawyers as well! Keep reading to learn more
What is a Paralegal?
Paralegals are legal professionals who assist lawyers by doing basic research, drafting documents like contracts or wills, and sometimes even interview clients or witnesses. Paralegals have been used since the 1960s and have become increasingly important as the legal field has begun to expand to include more services and practices that require specific knowledge.
A paralegal will typically have an undergraduate degree or a certificate/specialty training in law-related topics such as business law or contract law.
Paralegals cannot provide legal advice, which is why they’re often used alongside lawyers who themselves provide advice and counsel. Paralegals can be found in a variety of legal fields including corporate law, real estate law, family law, probate, and even criminal law.
What is a Lawyer?
Lawyers are the classic representation of a legal professional — the courtroom dramas, the law firm offices, the suits and ties — these are what come to mind when you think about law and lawyers. Lawyer, in fact, is a general term for any person who has been trained and/or licensed to practice law.
Paralegals are often considered a type of lawyer since they are trained in the intricacies of the law and practice law alongside attorneys at law firms. A large portion of lawyers actually work in government positions such as prosecutors, public defenders, or government lawyers. Judges, too, are considered a type of lawyer. Lawyers may or may not have a law degree, though they almost always have to pass a state-administered test to receive a license to practice.
Key Differences Between a Paralegal and a Lawyer
While paralegals have a firm grasp of the law and often know more than your average layperson, they are not required to have a law degree. Lawyers, on the other hand, must possess a law degree accredited by the American Bar Association.
Paralegals are not required to be licensed to work, though some states do require specific certifications. Lawyers, however, must be licensed in order to practice law. This license is contingent on the lawyer passing a state exam and meeting a certain number of hours working under another lawyer.
Paralegals often work in a very specific part of the law, such as probate or family law. Lawyers, however, may work across a wide variety of fields and are generally not confined to any one aspect of the law.
Paralegals generally make less than lawyers, depending on a number of factors including location, experience, and type of law they work in.
Should You Become a Paralegal or Lawyer?
Lawyers and paralegals often work side by side in the same firms, sometimes even sharing the same offices. Therefore, if you’re trying to decide whether you should become a paralegal or a lawyer, there are some things you should consider:
The first thing to consider when deciding whether to become a paralegal or lawyer is your education. If you already have a bachelor’s degree and some experience, becoming a paralegal is a quick, easy way to break into the field of law. If, on the other hand, you want to actually practice law, you’ll need to pursue a law degree.
Beyond education, you should also consider licensure. If you want to actually practice law, you’ll need to pass the state bar exam and complete a certain number of hours working under another lawyer. Paralegals, on the other hand, do not need to be licensed.
Is paralegal easier than lawyer?
Paralegal studies are much less intensive than law school, and they are usually offered as bachelor’s degrees. Many paralegal programs are offered online, which makes them convenient for students with a full-time job.
Paralegal programs often have a practical focus, which helps students find jobs as soon as they graduate. Students who are interested in becoming paralegals should look for schools with a strong legal research component.
Many paralegal programs are designed for students who are interested in law, but not ready to commit to a long and expensive undergraduate program. If you want to pursue a career as a paralegal, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. Most paralegal programs require that your coursework be in a specific area of law, such as criminal justice, health law, real estate, or corporate law.
Can you become a lawyer through paralegal?
Paralegal studies can lead to a career in law, but it isn't a direct path. You can't parlay this education into lawyer status. You must first earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. After earning your JD, you can then decide to pursue paralegal studies to further your career. Most lawyers didn't start out their careers as lawyers. Many started as paralegals. This career path can take anywhere from 3-7 years to complete.
Paralegals support lawyers by conducting research, preparing documents, and assisting clients. A paralegal degree program may be offered at a college or business school, or you may be able to take courses at a community college or online. You can expect to earn your degree in about two years. Paralegal programs often include coursework in legal research and procedure, as well as business topics such as management, communication, and accounting. You may also be required to obtain legal experience through an internship. After graduation, you can pursue a license to practice law.
Paralegals and lawyers are both legal professionals who help provide legal advice and counsel to people in need. While lawyers may have a law degree, become licensed, and actually practice law, a paralegal may not have a law degree or license at all. The good news is that the two professions often work side by side in the same law firms, and the lines between the two are often blurred. If you’re interested in becoming a legal professional, you should consider becoming a paralegal or a lawyer.