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tqur

Paralegal vs. Law Clerk vs. Law/Legal Assistant

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Hey everyone! A long time lurker of this forum, I have two (somewhat basic) queries.

1. I want to know what the difference between Paralegal, Law Clerk, and Legal Assistant is in Canada. More specifically, what is the difference between each of these qualifications and what is the difference between each of these jobs in practice. 

I am aware of Ontario paralegals being a unique phenomenon and all but I am interested to know more about the difference in these qualifications in other provinces (esp. BC and Alberta). 

I was hoping to undertake a Paralegal diploma but after doing some research I realize that there are more job openings for Law clerks than paralegals (in and outside of Ontario - as per Jobbank.ca). I also read on various reddit forums that it is very common for paralegals to work as law clerks and legal assistants. So would it not be better to save some $$ on certification and do a law clerk diploma instead? 

2. I read a previous post in this forum that said paralegal diploma and grad cert are essentially the same - ultimately its the licensing that will give me the permission to work in Ontario; however, if that is the case then why do colleges offer grad certs at all? 

Just to be clear, I want a vocational qualification in this field to further my career; I am a policy researcher and analyst at the moment. I have a masters degree in a relevant field. I want to transition into the field of social work with a focus on socio-legal policy (which includes topics like housing law, employment/labor law, family law, aboriginal rights, etc.). Also, I am interested in working for a firm/organization rather than going off on my own. 

Appreciate any and all help! 

Edited by tqur

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Do your MSW if you want to be a social worker. You can do family mediation/counseling, child protection, family life education, etc.. You can work with housing organizations and community groups or continue in policy roles.

 

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Hey! Thanks for the response. 

I've been working in the policy sector for about 3 years now and I don't want to continue in this field. I also don't want another Masters degree. However, I am absolutely sure of wanting to pursue a legal qualification but I am just confused about which one.  

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1 hour ago, tqur said:

Hey! Thanks for the response. 

I've been working in the policy sector for about 3 years now and I don't want to continue in this field. I also don't want another Masters degree. However, I am absolutely sure of wanting to pursue a legal qualification but I am just confused about which one.  

I feel you need to figure out what you want to do/what your goals are. You can transition to the work areas you say with policy experience. You won't be a social worker without a social work degree though so I'm not sure what you mean about wanting to enter the social work field. Unless you mean you want to focus on social policy, which, I digress, your policy experience and training will be the path in. Or do you mean Community Organization/Development?

Are you just looking for an introduction to legal concepts to transition the scope of your employment? Or are you looking to work as a paralegal or law clerk? If the former, you might want to consider Queen's certificate in law.  Université de Montréal offers the same in French (in civil law) or other introduction.

Next, a law clerk is not a "legal qualification" in the same sense as a paralegal. They're admin support on legal files. Super essential, and are a wonderful addition to a practice. Scope ranges across the field - real estate clerks will conduct title searches, family clerks will draft pleadings and interview clients, corporate clerks might keep some corporate books, and all of them will be doing admin support ranging from reception, transcripts, litigation support, filing, etc. This training won't give you an understanding of "the law" so much as it trains you to how to assist lawyer's in their practice. Clerk salaries range depending on the practice, clerk experience, and the like. 

One example, my clerk has spent half a day creating case books for our trial. She had music on while printing and binding, then went to deliver.  She was crisis managing my family clients at the same time. Other days, she's drafting, meeting with clients and filing my various pleadings, keeping track of my client disbursements, getting dates, filing confirmations, and various file management (closing letters, retainer agreements, chasing clients to get me their financial details or additional disclosure, reporting letters to clients, etc.)

Paralegal training in Ontario will teach you the law where paralegals have jurisdiction to practice.  The areas are quite limited given the scope paralegals have at the moment. Paralegals can represent clients and give limited legal advice. Another consideration is that the paralegal market is flooded in Ontario and you'll meet many people who have a paralegal degree working outside the field and/or as a clerk or assistant.

I can't speak to the difference between the college level or grad certificate. The classes look to be the same. I am guessing it's marketing to attract BAs.

 

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Thank you for your very valuable response.

I have thus deduced a need for a lot more research - on my part. I definitely know that I want to pursue a legal vocation, but I need to go back to the drawing board to hash out a more concrete plan. 

I will continue to look for a certification or qualification that would enable me to enter the legal field, hopefully keeping with my current set of interests and expertise. I dont know if it'll be back to JD and LSAT prep or as a paralegal to get a feel for the market first. 

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On 9/30/2020 at 8:20 AM, tqur said:

Hey everyone! A long time lurker of this forum, I have two (somewhat basic) queries.

1. I want to know what the difference between Paralegal, Law Clerk, and Legal Assistant is in Canada. More specifically, what is the difference between each of these qualifications and what is the difference between each of these jobs in practice. 

I am aware of Ontario paralegals being a unique phenomenon and all but I am interested to know more about the difference in these qualifications in other provinces (esp. BC and Alberta). 

I was hoping to undertake a Paralegal diploma but after doing some research I realize that there are more job openings for Law clerks than paralegals (in and outside of Ontario - as per Jobbank.ca). I also read on various reddit forums that it is very common for paralegals to work as law clerks and legal assistants. So would it not be better to save some $$ on certification and do a law clerk diploma instead? 

2. I read a previous post in this forum that said paralegal diploma and grad cert are essentially the same - ultimately its the licensing that will give me the permission to work in Ontario; however, if that is the case then why do colleges offer grad certs at all? 

Just to be clear, I want a vocational qualification in this field to further my career; I am a policy researcher and analyst at the moment. I have a masters degree in a relevant field. I want to transition into the field of social work with a focus on socio-legal policy (which includes topics like housing law, employment/labor law, family law, aboriginal rights, etc.). Also, I am interested in working for a firm/organization rather than going off on my own. 

Appreciate any and all help! 

Paralegals will be in demand in Ontario over the next few years and beyond as they continue to serve the public by filling the demand when it comes to access to justice.  If you don't want to invest too much money or time undergoing law school,  obtaining a paralegal diploma may be an advantageous route when considering whether or not to pursue a paralegal, law clerk, or legal assistant education. 

Paralegals can advocate for their client's to some extent, depending on the area of law and within a paralegal's scope of practice, (family law will be opening up in the horizon for a paralegal to obtain certification in this area), they can also start their own practice or work under the direction of a lawyer or with other paralegal's, as a few examples.

Have you decided which route you will take?

Best of luck.  

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Posted (edited)
On 10/5/2020 at 10:02 AM, Stephy said:

Paralegals will be in demand in Ontario over the next few years and beyond as they continue to serve the public by filling the demand when it comes to access to justice.  If you don't want to invest too much money or time undergoing law school,  obtaining a paralegal diploma may be an advantageous route when considering whether or not to pursue a paralegal, law clerk, or legal assistant education. 

Paralegals can advocate for their client's to some extent, depending on the area of law and within a paralegal's scope of practice, (family law will be opening up in the horizon for a paralegal to obtain certification in this area), they can also start their own practice or work under the direction of a lawyer or with other paralegal's, as a few examples.

Have you decided which route you will take?

Best of luck.  

Hey Stephy! 

I am still researching law schools for a JD but personally leaning towards paralegal diploma tbh. I don't know if I have the time and stamina to go through a three year JD only to realise that its not for me. 

Also because of I am 30+ of age and already have a suitable job in a field that I don't always hate - and is actually in the area that I got my social sciences degree in. It's more risk to quit all of this and go back to school, as compared to getting an accelerated paralegal diploma and change career tracks. Finances (and continuing to generate an income) are a strong determinant for me. 

If I do end up liking paralegal work, thats great. If I like the field and want to go for a JD, I'll still have that option too. 

But in terms of job prospects, I checked the trend analysis on jobbank[.gc.ca] and this is what it says:

"For Paralegal and related occupations, over the period 2019-2028, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 14,200 , while 13,600 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them." 

Whereas for lawyers, this is the outlook:

"For Judges, lawyers and Quebec notaries, over the period 2019-2028, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 46,000 , while 46,600 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them."

Another half a point in favour of paralegal diploma, in my mind.

Edited by tqur

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On 10/5/2020 at 3:02 AM, Stephy said:

Paralegals will be in demand in Ontario over the next few years and beyond as they continue to serve the public by filling the demand when it comes to access to justice. 

I am not sure where you get your information, but that is most certainly not the case. There is in fact very little demand and very few jobs. Most paralegals end up leaving the profession. The LSO's published stats show 9000 paralegals in Ontario, and about two thirds of those not practicing. That is an astonishing attrition rate. 

Don't get your hopes up that the proposed FLSP licence with come to fruition. It is far from a done deal and much opposition from lawyer benchers. 

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