What’s The Difference Between Law Clerks, Paralegals, & Legal Assistants?

From the outside, it seems to most people that lawyers are the heart of the legal field, but once you step inside a law office, you find that there are a team of professionals working together as a fine-tuned machine. Law clerks, paralegals, and legal assistants are some of the valuable behind-the-scenes workers who keep things running smoothly in any law office. But what’s the difference and which is the best career pathway for you?

Law Clerks

Law clerks are usually students studying law. This means they are on their way to becoming an attorney or they’ve recently graduated from law school. Becoming a law clerk usually means that you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree and either have finished an additional four years of law school or are on your way to finishing it. Because of those requirements, most people don’t have the end-goal of becoming a law-clerks. Instead, it’s a job you do while waiting to pass the bar exam or waiting for a position as an attorney.

Law clerks’ work is more in depth than that of paralegals or legal assistants. They help lawyers and judges with legal research and more detailed work that requires they know and understand the inner workings of the law.


Paralegals can sometimes be trained within a law office, but for the most part, the best way to get hired as a paralegal – especially with a higher wage – is to earn a certificate in paralegal services earning specific paralegal training. There are even national exams that paralegal course graduates can take to make them more valuable for a hiring law or corporate office. Hiring teams love to get the resumés of individuals who have a foundational understanding of the law and what work as a paralegal involves.

What does paralegal work involve though? Paralegals draft pleadings and monitor cases for attorneys. They have to be organized and able to pay close attention to detail because they often make sure that cases are following specific deadlines and are in compliance with the law. However, communication skills are a great personality are also important in this career path because paralegals also often work closely with clients, communicating directly with them when the lawyer is not available. They work as the go-between for the client and attorney, but they can’t offer legal advice on their own because they are not lawyers. 

Lawyers delegate work to paralegals; sometimes paralegals will complete research, prepare discoveries and file paperwork. Paralegals don’t generally do the mundane day-to-day administrative tasks for lawyers; that would be more of the role of a legal assistant or secretary. Working as a paralegal is a great career for someone who doesn’t have eight years to spend in school, but who does have a keen interest in the law.

Legal Assistants

Another term for legal assistant is legal secretary. They work on the administrative side of a law office making sure that attorneys’ appointments are organized, answering phone calls, updating their calendar, and keeping track of their general day-to-day list of “to do.” Legal assistants might be expected to help with the financial or billing side of the business as well and the general operations of the lawyer’s office. 

There is often no set training required to become a legal assistant, but certainly, being an organized individual helps as well as basic computer skills and billing experience. Working as a secretary or office assistant in another office can quality you for a career as a legal assistant.

Washington Technical Institute

Washington Technical Institute’s fully online paralegal certificates can be completed in a matter of months, with daily start dates. Such flexible start dates make these programs unique and much more accessible for our students. An additional benefit of WTI’s programs is that we offer affordable pricing and monthly payments to help our students leave school without debt. 

We offer an 8 month, 15 credit National Paralegal Certificate for individuals who want to investigate what paralegal work is all about; a 12 month, 33 credit Senior Paralegal Certificate for those who want to go a bit more in-depth with their studies and have more range for job opportunities; and a 16 month, 45 credit Master Paralegal Certificate for motivated students who want to get the most out of their training and take one of the national certification exams through paralegal associations like NALA or NALS.

Although our goal is to help our students graduate their programs with little to no debt, we also recognize that some students might need to utilize a loan for their educational investment. We are excited to announce our partnerships with Climb Credit or Ascent, student lending companies focused on financing career-building programs. 

If you’re ready to enroll and start your training to enter a high-paying career without a college degree, you can register for your program online through our website. Still have questions about our programs? Feel free to call us at 800-371-5581 or text us at 952-465-3702. Our admissions specialists will be happy answer whatever questions you have.

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Washington Technical Institute is Regionally accredited by the Middle States Association CESS, and licensed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education as an institution of higher learning