Paralegal v Legal Assistant – Does It Matter? (Part Two)

As a follow up to a recent post on this topic, in 2007 the Legal Assistants Section of the State Bar of Michigan changed its name from “Legal Assistants Section” to “Paralegal/Legal Assistant Section.” name change in May 2008. A story by Linda Jevahirian in the Michigan Paralegal reports the reason for the change and some research she performed regarding the use of the terms.

The change occurred “Because both terms are used in the field, similar to the way in which ‘lawyer’ and ‘attorney’ are interchangeable, the membership felt the section name should reflect both titles.” I am not sue this characterization is correct, as is somewhat indicated by Linda’s research on “Which term is more accurate?”:

In an effort to determine whether one term—“paralegal” or “legal assistant”—is more applicable, I researched the terminology most often used by a range of paralegal organizations. What I discovered is that neither is used more often than the other.

The report gives a good history of the use of both terms by organizations such as the ABA, the International Paralegal Management Association,NALA, NFPA, and some Michigan state associations. While this research does show that there is not yet a consensus on the subject, it does appear to me to indicate a trend exemplified by the report that “IPMA changed its name from ‘The Legal Assistant Management Association’ (LAMA) to its current name to mirror the ABA’s name change two years earlier.”

As I stated in the earlier post, the profession would be well served by some standardization in this regard. This report set forth at least one reason for this in its analysis of  NALS:

Get ready for even more confusion. Many legal secretaries refer to themselves as “legal assistants.” I asked a representative of NALS (a national association with state and local chapters) for its view since it originally represented secretaries and only recently changed its focus to include a broader range of legal professionals, from receptionists to lawyers. NALS has concluded that, although the terms “legal assistant” and “paralegal” were at one time interchangeable, the term “legal assistant” is now a generic term for someone who works for an attorney.


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