Paralegal Vs. Virtual Legal Assistant: Your Best Bet
- April 12, 2023
- 8 min read
- By Sabeeha Banu
TABLE OF CONTENTS
It’s common to use the terms “paralegal” and “virtual legal assistant” interchangeably. In reality, each of these roles has a specific function.
Some professionals work as paralegals or virtual legal assistants before enrolling in law school for the experience. Some pursue paralegal or virtual legal assistant roles because they are interested in the legal sector but do not intend to practice law.
This blog describes each position and its functions so you may better comprehend the roles. It also highlights the main differences between paralegals and legal assistants.
You can choose which of these positions is the best bet for your company by knowing how a paralegal and a legal assistant differ.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal works in a law office with a lawyer or government agency performing various legal tasks. They prepare documents, investigate the facts of cases and write reports. Paralegals can specialize in certain areas of the law, such as family law, criminal law, real estate or immigration law. Their specific responsibilities can vary depending on the area of the law.
What are the Duties of a Paralegal?
Paralegals provide technical assistance to attorneys so they can focus on their clients’ needs. They handle both clerical and legal work, such as:
- Conducting interviews with clients
- Maintaining communication with clients
- Performing legal research
- Drafting documents, pleadings, and correspondence
- Attending case hearings with lawyers
- Locating and interviewing witnesses
- Compiling and demonstrating evidence used in court
- Summarizing testimony, depositions, and interrogatories
- Filing appeals with opposing attorneys
- Making and signing documents that do not include legal counsel or third-party legal opinions
What is a Legal Assistant?
A legal assistant performs administrative and client service duties in a law firm. They aid lawyers in their legal research, much like paralegals. Legal assistants are also known as administrative assistants and legal secretaries.
What are the Duties of a Legal Assistant?
A legal assistant help lawyers with administrative and customer service tasks, including:
- Composing and editing legal correspondence and documents
- Managing the billing for clients by creating, sending, and resolving bills
- Gathering and arranging proof and legal papers for the attorney to review
- Scheduling meetings, depositions, and interviews with clients and witnesses
- Arranging and maintaining paper and computerized filing systems for documents
- Providing general administrative assistance, such as planning the attorney's travel and keeping their calendar
Paralegal vs Legal Assistant: Five Key Differences
Here are the five main ways that a paralegal and a legal assistant differ:
A college degree is necessary for a paralegal. Most paralegals are recent graduates of colleges who may attend law school. Specific work requirements for paralegals vary by state. For instance, paralegals in California complete a paralegal certificate program certified by the American Bar Association (ABA) and particular educational and workplace criteria.
After completing high school, a legal assistant may not need to attend any further education. Many law firms provide on-the-job training for persons without a background in law or formal schooling. Some organizations could additionally favor hiring legal assistants with an associate's degree or a certificate.
Legal assistants and paralegals share many skills, including computer literacy, interpersonal skills, and communication.
Paralegals frequently need to possess knowledge of the legal system's inner workings and intricacies.
Paralegals typically provide specific legal assistance to qualified lawyers and attorneys, and therefore they should possess the following skills:
- Legal documentation
- Composing legal documents
- Legal research
A legal assistant typically needs a wide range of abilities and knowledge, with a focus on the following:
- Legal support
- Administrative support
- Data entry
A paralegal must have three to five years of experience working in a law office. Before transitioning to the paralegal, a successful applicant may have worked as a legal assistant. Some candidates work as paralegals after completing an internship after college.
A legal assistant's position does not require prior expertise. An attorney assistant can typically be a recent graduate of law school.
Working directly with clients as a paralegal might be a beneficial experience for individuals who want to become a lawyer.
They do all the duties of an attorney except for making decisions and exercising authority.
A paralegal's workday includes case analysis, document authoring, legal research, and other activities.
The legal assistant doesn't interact with client work. But they perform administrative back-office duties. They spend their time typing correspondence, scheduling meetings, and carrying out administrative tasks to keep the law business running. Therefore, legal assistants' interactions with clients are limited to administrative duties. This interaction is crucial to the legal process since it saves the attorney time and promotes efficiency.
5. Case-Preparation Tasks
Paralegals and legal assistants work closely together to thoroughly prepare cases for trial. A legal assistant's duties are primarily administrative.
They arrange the trial files and papers for the attorney to peruse. They also schedule meetings between the paralegal, the lawyer and clients, witnesses, and other parties.
On the other hand, a paralegal gathers information, interviews potential witnesses and others who may be involved, and draughts declarations and arguments the lawyer will use in court.
How Virtual Legal Assistants Can Help Law Firms
A virtual assistant helps law firms streamline workflows by taking care of time-consuming tasks like research, document review, and data entry. They could be a resource for legal firms as they manage several tedious tasks that lawyers are concerned with. They reduce the expense of hiring an attorney and free up the law firm to concentrate on other legal services that can bring in more money.
Here are some tasks that virtual legal assistants can help law firms with:
- Legal transcription
- Legal data entry
- Legal research and writing
- Answering calls
- Legal bookkeeping/accounting
- Email inbox management
- Social media management
- Setting up legal appointments
- Sending out appointment reminders
Benefits of Hiring a Virtual Legal Assistant
Here are the top benefits of hiring a virtual legal assistant.
Save Time & Money:
Because of the numerous administrative obligations, law firms are pressed for time. Using a virtual legal assistant in such circumstances can save valuable time. By employing a virtual legal assistant, attorneys are relieved of the burden of overseeing non-core tasks, covering employee benefits, and paying for infrastructure. As a result, they can spend less money on hiring a virtual assistant and concentrate more on core legal issues.
Virtual legal assistants take care of all office work for law companies. They efficiently manage all essential legal tasks like the administration of legal contracts and legal research, increasing the firm's general effectiveness. In addition to handling calls for busy attorneys, they enhance the caliber of legal research and writing.
Utilizing a legal virtual assistant's services has many advantages, including meeting deadlines, working across time zones, and more. However, deciding which tasks to outsource to a virtual legal assistant will primarily depend on the needs of the law firm. VAs are particularly useful for managing administrative tasks that weigh down law companies.
Law firms can access skilled staff and get quick turnaround times, cost savings, and flexibility by contracting with a reputable legal process outsourcing business like Office Beacon.
How Virtual Paralegals Can Help Law Firms
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2020 and 2030, the employment of paralegals and legal assistants can increase by 12%.
Typically, law firms employ paralegals to aid staff attorneys in their work. By assigning administrative and legal tasks to paralegals, staff attorneys can spend their time assisting clients and completing sophisticated legal work.
Law firms can appoint a virtual paralegal to conduct a range of legal tasks, including:
- Client consultations
- Case file organization
- Legal research
- Communication between witnesses and attorneys
- Creating legal documents and briefs
- Verifying legal citations
- Legal issue analysis
- Upkeep a database of cases
- Customer follow-up
Benefits of Hiring a Virtual Paralegal Assistant
Here are the top benefits of hiring a virtual paralegal assistant.
Focus on Specialized Tasks
Virtual paralegal assistants have more specialized training than administrative assistants but less than lawyers. They interview clients, do legal research, draw legal documents, and keep track of filings on a firm's casework.
By delegating administrative and legal tasks to paralegals, attorneys can spend time focusing on more specialized tasks.
Benefits Bottom Line
Assigning less specialized work to paralegals who demand less than staff attorneys improves the financial health of a law firm.
Through outsourcing, a business can only hire paralegals when they need them.
Law firms significantly reduce their overhead costs by hiring a virtual paralegal assistant because they have to pay for the work a virtual paralegal assistant does.
Virtual paralegals and legal assistants have diverse roles to play. One cannot replace the other. Law companies can choose the best fit for their operation by carefully examining the duties of a virtual paralegal and virtual legal assistant.