Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wikipedia: the differences between a lawyer and a paralegal

Wikipedia says "The greatest differences between lawyers and paralegals are that lawyers can set fees, give legal advice, appear as counsel of record in court, and sign pleadings (and other court documents) in a representative capacity. If a paralegal attempts to do any of these acts, they will be in violation of the unauthorized practice of law statutes that exist in most U.S. states.
Paralegals are responsible for handling tasks such as legal writing, research and other forms of documentation for the lawyers that they work under. Other traditional differences between a paralegal and a lawyer (e.g. attorney) is that: 1. paralegal expertise/training tends to be niche, whereas a lawyer has a much broader, longer, more formal and holistic training, and 2. that the lawyer's primary job is to consider, analyze and strategize, whereas a paralegal's primary responsibility is to carry out the tasks arising from that consideration, analysis and strategy.

[NOTE: this is an opinion of a Wikipedia writer. They probably did research, but they probably have no actual law office experience.]

Please see Empowered Paralegal's well-written caution on Wikipedia as an information source:

I am not sure whether I agree that paralegals are niche-associated, whereas attorneys have a broader background. The fact is that paralegals can change practice focuses more seamlessly than can attorneys, which I believe makes them far more likely to change practice focuses than attorneys.
Other than that, I guess it's generally true. It doesn't give any of the realism and politics, but I think it's meant as more of an overview than a thorough essay about what we legal professionals do. Afterall, there's probably not enough room on the internet for that anyways.


  1. I agree with your assessment that Paralegals change fields more easily. I work in many different fields (litigation, bankruptcy, patent, real estate) all at once. Most of the Attorneys in those fields know nothing about the other fields.

  2. Ditto Grumpy. I've simultaneously worked in nursing home litigation, collections work, corporate litigation and estate litigation and appellate law. Oh and a smattering of plaintiff PI work at the same time. Only 1 attorney fell into more than 1 of those categories.

    I laugh everytime one of the attorneys from a different department says they have no idea what we do in litigation. I know what they do, I just don't want to do it! :)

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