Schools Training

The Difference Between a Lawyer and a Paralegal

7 MAR 2014
Career Path : paralegal

Lawyers and paralegals work side by side in legal cases, but their responsibilities and expertise differ in important ways. Becoming a lawyer takes a great deal of training beyond that of a paralegal, but both lawyers and paralegals are professionals who share many important legal tasks.

Training and licensure

While a paralegal works in the legal field, he or she does not really “practice” law in the same way that a lawyer does. Lawyers must pass the bar exam of the state in which he or she wishes to practice to be able to represent clients in cases. The bar exam is typically taken towards the end of a candidate’s law school studies, and aspiring lawyers can only begin studying at a law school after they have completed a Bachelor’s degree. Therefore, a lawyer usually must study a total of seven years– four years for a Bachelor’s degree and three years at a law school for a J.D. degree– before being eligible for licensure.

Although paralegals cannot take the bar exam to attain licensure as lawyers, they can be granted professional registration or certification by various professional paralegal organizations. Paralegals must at least complete some academic training – often through an Associate’s degree program or a Bachelor’s degree program– to qualify to fulfill a paralegal position. A position as a paralegal generally involves working under a lawyer and assisting him or her.

Job tasks

Certain legal tasks can be carried out by both lawyers and paralegals. For example, lawyers and paralegals are responsible for doing research on a case to help collect proof and any information on relevant legal precedents. In addition, both lawyers and paralegals can be responsible for planning estates, drawing up contracts, interviewing witnesses or clients, and writing briefs.

Only a lawyer can establish a legal practice independently and offer legal services to clients. Lawyers can file lawsuits and carry out depositions, which are statements made by witnesses under oath. Paralegals are often present for depositions, and they may take notes on the proceedings. However, they are not permitted to question witnesses themselves during depositions.

Those interested in a career in the legal field can begin working in the field sooner by pursuing paralegal courses rather studying in preparation for entry into law school. While a lawyer may be able to earn more money once he or she has been admitted to the bar, many law students must take out loans and accumulate considerable debt to get through an undergraduate program and law school.


Some law students may find that taking some time to work as a paralegal can allow them to gain more experience and make contacts in the legal field. At times when the economy is poor, law school graduates occasionally will take work as paralegals. Both lawyers and paralegals can enjoy many opportunities to find work in the legal field, but job opportunities are expected to grow faster for paralegals than lawyers over the next decade according to some occupational outlook studies.

Visit Herzing College for more information about paralegal courses.