Paralegal v Legal Assistant – Does it matter?

A few months ago a post on the Western New York Paralegals Association bulletin board forum on professionalism included a survey asking whether law firms used the term “paralegal” or the term “legal assistant,” and which term respondents preferred. There were only twelve respondents so, in addition to not being a representative sample of personnel in American law offices  the responds are statistically significant. It is, nonetheless, interesting. One firm used “legal assistant,” five used “paralegal,” and two used the terms interchangeably. Nine of the respondents preferred the use of the term “paralegal,” while none expressed a preference for “legal assistant.”

As noted in a previous post here there is still a lot of confusion both within and without the legal profession as to just what a paralegal is. This confusion is aggravated by the use  of multiple terms for people who perform essentially the same roles. While NALA and ABA have agreed upon a definition, it is of little help to those outside the profession. As the medical profession has learned with regard to physician assistants, standardization of usage would be helpful in the legal profession. The fact (assuming a larger study confirmed this survey sample) that those persons performing the role prefer “paralegal” is significant.

This difficulty is compounded by “independent paralegals” and “legal document assistant professionals,” terms that will be discussed in later posts.

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