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Attorney vs. Paralegal

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DISCLAIMER: Altiorem Legal Services (hereinafter referred to as “Altiorem”) cannot and does not provide legal advice. Altiorem is not a law firm; Altiorem’s staff are not attorneys, cannot act as attorneys, and do not act as attorneys; and any information provided by Altiorem in this article or otherwise is not a substitute for legal advice from an attorney. The information contained in this article should not be construed as legal advice, as it is not intended to be legal advice; the information in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Again, none of the information provided in this article should be construed as legal advice, and nobody should rely on or use the information contained in this article in one’s legal matters.


A paralegal is an individual professionally trained to assist attorneys in various legal capacities. While a paralegal can sometimes perform clerical work such as filing or calendaring, that is not a paralegal’s main duty. The aforementioned duties typically belong to a legal assistant. A paralegal is essentially a legal assistant that is trained to perform, without limitation, the following responsibilities:

  • draft legal documents;
  • conduct legal research;
  • work with clients;
  • manage cases; and
  • manage other tasks more specifically related to law and legal procedures, excepting clerical work.

Paralegals will often work with a wide variety of people. Some of their associates include attorneys, clients, witnesses, court personnel, administrative assistants, and other firm staff. Paralegals have strong relationships with the legal professionals they work with. Paralegals are often required to work with other legal professionals. A paralegal is, ideally, a professional, reliable, and hard-working individual.


Attorneys trust paralegals to perform the bulk of the work on a case. Paralegals may assist in organizing the facts of a case, deciding legal matters, and applying the law to a case’s elements. With this background established, attorneys then review, plan, and apply information to the case. As long as paralegals perform their duties and apply the law to cases under an attorney’s supervision, and while not directly providing legal advice to a client, the paralegal can perform duties typically associated with the practice of law. A paralegal can provide legal advice, with respect to a case, to their attorney. This counsel helps the attorney become better informed about the case and, therefore, make a better legal decision thereupon.

Paralegals may provide legal advice to an attorney with respect to a case, but the attorney is ultimately responsible for the final decision of how that legal advice applies to the case at hand. Therefore, paralegals are sometimes required to give legal advice to their attorney with respect to a case, perform legal duties, etc., but as long as the paralegal performs said duties under the supervision of an attorney, the paralegal would not be in danger, and their performance would be considered compliant with the law and other codes of legal procedures.


As aforementioned, paralegals cannot provide legal advice to individuals. Paralegals are not attorneys and are not regulated by the state bar association. Unauthorizedly giving legal advice occurs when a person, acting as a legal advisor gives an advisee a professional or formal opinion regarding the substance or procedure of the law in relation to the advisee’s particular factual situation of their case.

One can be accused of giving legal advice when, while contemplating the particular facts of an advisee’s situation, one applies the law and legal principles to said particular facts, and then one renders a legal opinion to the advisee based on one’s application of the law and legal principles to that advisee’s particular facts and situation. In other words, legal advice constitutes giving a client any information that would lead them to make a legal decision on their case. A paralegal can be sued for unauthorizedly providing legal advice, as well as face large fines and other penalties.


As referenced above, another thing that paralegals cannot do is practice law. The American Bar Association (hereinafter referred to as the “ABA”) in their publication, Definition of the Practice of Law, published on September 18, 2002, defines the “practice of law” as “the application of legal principles and judgment with regard to the circumstances or objectives of a person that require the knowledge and skill of a person trained in law.”[1] To abstain from potentially practicing law, a paralegal should not apply “legal principles and judgment”[2] to a client’s case without an attorney’s supervision; a paralegal can, however, provide self-help services to pro se[3] litigants seeking to represent themselves in their legal matters, but at no point should a paralegal apply “legal principles and judgment”[4] to a pro se client’s case; it is the pro se client themselves who applies “legal principles and judgment”[5] to their own case. That is how a paralegal can provide legal services to pro se litigants without it constituting the practice of law.

While paralegals cannot provide legal advice or practice law like an attorney, they nevertheless are well versed in the legal field and know the ins and outs of the court, cases, and legal procedures. A paralegal has knowledge of—for example and without limitation—what documents need to be filed, what the documents should contain, when the documents need to be filed, and how the documents need to be filed.


Paralegals are also very knowledgeable as to—for example and with no limitation—going through casefiles and creating a timeline of the case facts, or organizing evidence. Some paralegals even create “paralegal firms”—such as Altiorem! These organizations are run by a paralegal and typically do not have an attorney on staff.

Paralegal firms typically render certain legal services at a much lower cost to litigants than an actual law firm, but their services are usually limited to filling out preexisting forms with information provided by the client.

Paralegal firms can neither legally give clients advice on law or legal procedures, nor legally represent the client in any way—except under special circumstances in small claims cases, in which a paralegal (or any non-attorney individual) can represent a pro se litigant and, intrinsically, give them legal advice and perform the practice of law, but only with the express permission of the court.

Hiring a paralegal is ideal for individuals who intend to represent themselves in court. Paralegals can help to ensure understanding on the part of the client, as well as fill out the legal documentation needed in a case before it is submitted to the court. If one needs legal assistance, legal advice, and/or legal representation, an actual attorney or a law firm is the better option.[6]


An attorney or a lawyer (the terms “attorney” and “lawyer” are used interchangeably herein; it is not unusual for both terms to appear in the same sentence, but they refer to the same thing) is an individual who typically went to law school,[7] passed their state’s bar exam, and can, therefore, legally represent clients, practice law in court, take part in other legal proceedings, and offer legal advice directly pertaining to their client’s situation, among other duties. An attorney advises clients regarding their ongoing litigation, and they can explain the legal system to their clients. Being an attorney can be a very stressful job, and it is a big responsibility.


Attorneys are usually paid by retainer. A retainer is a type of compensation agreement between the attorney and a client, and it is used either for reserving the attorney’s employment or as compensation for future services.[8] To engage in a retainer agreement, a relatively larger amount of money is paid to the attorney upfront, but it does not go to the attorney until they earn the compensation. The retainer funds go into a trust account, not into the attorney’s bank account. The attorney receives compensation from the trust either periodically for services or after finishing the services contemplated in the attorney-client agreement that they executed with their client. Sometimes a client might even get money back after the completion of their case. Other times a client might have to pay a second retainer.

Beyond retainers, some attorneys only work on a flat fee basis. This means that a client only pays one flat fee for the attorney’s legal services. The client does not get money back as they potentially could with a retainer, but they do not have to pay more than the flat fee. A flat-fee agreement is usually engaged in when an attorney is drafting things such as, but not limited to, a contract or a will. However, for matters such as criminal cases or divorce cases, it is typical to have to pay a retainer.


Attorneys can research details, evidence, and relevant caselaw for certain cases. Attorneys are able to practice law in front of a judge, and they are trained in the judicial system. One major distinction between attorneys and paralegals is that attorneys are duly appointed officers of the court. This means that they have rights and duties in the courtroom, while a paralegal does not. Attorneys address witnesses, juries, and judges in order to advance their case. Attorneys can be general practitioners or have a focus in certain areas of the law; however, “[a] lawyer [usually] shall not state or imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law . . . .”[9] Therefore, although attorneys typically cannot advertise that they specialize in a certain field of law, they can focus in areas of law such as criminal law, real estate, corporate issues, estate planning, intellectual property, and even family law, among the many other areas of law in the legal system.

Attorneys focusing on particular fields of law are knowledgeable about the field in which they focus. Thanks to their educational background, attorneys can help in other areas of law as well. Again, attorneys usually cannot state or imply that they specialize in a specific area of law, unless: “(1) the lawyer has been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by an appropriate state authority or that has been accredited by the American Bar Association[] and (2) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.”[10] Therefore, excepting the circumstances established in the foregoing Rule 7.4(d)(1) and (2), an attorney cannot advertise that they “specialize” in an area or areas of law, but they can state that they focus in certain areas of law.


While it might seem that paralegals and attorneys have similar jobs, there are a few crucial differences. As established hereinabove, paralegals cannot provide legal advice or practice law. An attorney is a good fit if you are unsure what to file or what your options are regarding your case. A paralegal would be a good fit if you need help:

  • understanding the legal documents you want to be drafted;
  • drafting legal documents in a professional and appropriate manner; and/or
  • researching legal facts for your case.

If you are not sure who would be the best fit for your situation, just ask Altiorem! Altiorem is happy to help you determine whether an attorney or a paralegal is the best fit for you. We are here for you and want to help you obtain the best outcome for your case. If it turns out that an attorney is a more appropriate choice for you, we are happy to refer you to an attorney in our network. Alternatively, if we think that we can get the best outcome for your case without an attorney, we will let you know. Ultimately, however, the decision is up to you. If you know what you want drafted for your case, Altiorem can help you. If you choose us, we will zealously fight for you and your case every step of the way.


Are you in need of affordable, top-quality legal services from a paralegal? Specifically, do you need help with drafting legal documents? Let Altiorem Legal Services help you today! We are experienced in drafting all manner of legal documents, such as briefs, pleadings, motions, memoranda, letters, etc. If you need a top-quality, professional, well-written, well-researched, and compelling legal document drafted, then look no further! The quality of our legal documents goes well above and beyond the average legal industry writing quality in Utah. We produce top-quality, properly written legal documents with impeccable grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure, flow, information, compelling legal arguments, and persuasive legal conclusions.

Our team of professional paralegals enjoys in working with attorneys, other paralegals, and court personnel. We are happy to help with:

  • creating legal documentation;
  • speaking on the phone about your paralegal needs;
  • looking through court files; and
  • even translating documents (English / Spanish)!

The Utah legal system can be daunting and confusing. Let Altiorem Legal Services relieve your stress and be your guide.

Altiorem Legal Services has a team of professional paralegals ready to work for you. We want to give you the best chance at getting a positive outcome for your case.

Need more proof of the high quality of our paralegal work?

Check out our Work Samples page to peruse and evaluate our writing, as well as our Blogs.

Looking to retain our services? Contact us at (801)855-6541 (text or call) and at If you have a project in mind that you would like us to work on, please click here to send us a project request and get a quote; alternatively, you can send us an email detailing the work you need performed, and a real person will respond promptly.

Thank you for your attention and consideration.

[1] American Bar Association, TASK FORCE ON THE MODEL DEFINITION OF THE PRACTICE OF LAW (Sept. 18, 2002),, at (b)(1).

[2] Id.

[3] “Pro Se” is Latin for “for oneself, on one’s own behalf”. It refers to when a litigant proceeds in a case without legal counsel (Legal Information Institute, Pro Se),right%20to%20representation%20by%20counsel. (last visited Aug. 10, 2022)).

[4] American Bar Association, supra at (b)(1).

[5] Id.

[6], What Is the Difference Between an Attorney a Paralegal and a Lawyer?, (last visited Aug. 10, 2022).

[7] Some states do not require an individual to have gone to law school to become an attorney. States like California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington only require that the individual pass the bar exam.

[8] Legal Information Institute, Retainer, (last visited Aug. 10, 2022).

[9] Casetext, Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 7.4, 7.4(d), (last updated July 19, 2022).

[10] Id. at 7.4(d)(1) and (2).