Paralegal Assistant vs Professional Paralegal – what’s the difference? You may have seen both terms used at one time or another.
Usually the term Paralegal Assisant is used when the paralegal is employed by a lawyer to assist him with research, legal prep work and other administrative tasks related to the cases he or she is working on.
However, there is another term that is used for Paralegals when they work in a slightly different capacity. That term is Professional Paralegal, and there are subtle nuances which differentiate a Professional Paralegal from a Paralegal Assistant.
When asked what a Professional Paralegal is, a lawyer would simply answer “A Paralegal is a non-lawyer.”
As a Professional Paralegal I am asked this question quite often, but my response is somewhat different.
- Paralegals are not regulated like lawyers.
- Paralegals are not forced to be a member in a society such as The Law Society of Upper Canada.
- Paralegals are not forced to carry Errors and Omissions Insurance (Insurance that protects the public against the lawyer’s possible mistakes).
When Paralegals Work Directly for the Client
We all know that paralegals work for lawyers. But what many people don’t realize is that paralegals may be self employed, or they may work for Paralegal firms.
Paralegals, can and do direclty represent clients in various courts throughout the US and Canada. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 Paralegals operating in Canada alone.
Fees Are Different Than a Lawyers
The regulations lawyers are required to abide by are very costly for the lawyer to maintain. This creates an unfair advantage for the paralegal who in many instances can offer similar legal services for less than what it would cost the client to hire a lawyer for the same services.
It sounds very attractive, however, when thinking of retaining the less costly legal services of a paralegal, consumers should be concerned with other issues such as ethics; education; professional standards; consumer complaints and disciplinary procedures.
Protection of the Public
When you hire a lawyer, you have a certain amount of protection in place. Lawyers can be disbarred in instances of negligence of misconduct. However this and other types of protection are not in place when you hire a paralegal in place of a lawyer.
A Professional Paralegal should carry Errors and Omissions Insurance, and belong to a Society that takes Consumer Complaints and imposes Disciplinary Procedures in the event that a Paralegal has acted unprofessionally or with misconduct.
This Society also has a Code of Ethics; Education Standards; Professional Code of Conduct, and the authority to impose penalties and/or expel any that are found guilty of misrepresenting a client.
For instance, in Canada, there is The Paralegal Society of Canada and within each Canadian province there is a Paralegal Society for that province (for example, the Paralegal Society of British Columbia). Qualified paralegals may join these oranizations which offers the public protection.
Of course this membership costs the professional paralegal a fee, but insurance premiums are much lower than they would be for a lawyer since the paralegal deals with matters of smaller liability. Membership fees in these organizations are also much less than they are in Law Society (of which lawyers are members). For reasons such as these, paralegals have much lower expenses than lawyers, and so hiring a Professional Paralegal will usually be a less costly option to hiring a lawyer in situations where a paralegal is capable of handling the matter.