Paralegal Versus Lawyer: 7 Main Differences New Students Should Know

If you live in Ontario, you probably know that paralegals have a special status in the province, which they don’t have anywhere else in Canada. 

In Ontario, paralegals can actually represent clients independently (just like a lawyer does) for certain legal matters. 

They can set up a private practice, specialize in a certain area of law, and in some cases, advocate for clients in court. 

However, paralegals must operate within certain limits. They can’t do everything a lawyer can...and there are several important differences between these two career paths. 

Take a look at 7 key differences between becoming a paralegal versus becoming a lawyer. 


1. Educational Requirements 

For many students, this is one of the most important differences between paralegals and lawyers.  

As most people know, lawyers must devote several years to post-secondary study. Their journey begins with an undergraduate degree, which typically takes 4 years to complete. 

Then, students must write the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). Nearly all Canadian and US law schools require the standard LSAT.  

After that, they must invest 3 years to earn the Juris Doctor or JD—which is a first level law degree. It is an undergraduate, not a graduate degree. 

Once students complete their law degree, they must pass the provincial bar exam and get licensed. 

For paralegals, the educational requirements are much simpler. You do not need an undergraduate degree to apply to paralegal training programs.  

And while paralegals must earn a license, they do not need to pass the extremely challenging provincial bar exam. 


2. Training Options 

If you want to become a lawyer, the training options are clear. You need an undergraduate degree and a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, which equals a total of 7 years of training. 

If you want to become a paralegal, your training options are more varied and flexible.  

For instance, there are a variety of paralegal programs in Ontario, ranging in length from 1-2 years, with full and part-time study options. 

Important: The paralegal program you choose must be approved by the Law Society of Ontario. Graduates of unapproved program do not qualify for licensing, and cannot legally practice.

At Herzing College, we offer an accelerated 12-month Paralegal diploma. It is a full-time program, designed for students who want a faster route to employment. Click below for quick overview of the training.

See an Overview of the Paralegal Diploma Program


3. Licensing 

For lawyers in Ontario, licensing requires passing the Ontario bar exam. The bar exam consists of 2 different tests: 

1. Barrister Examination: tests knowledge of public law, criminal procedure, family law and civil litigation (7 hours).  
2.The Solicitor Examination: tests knowledge of real estate law, business law, wills, trusts and estate administration and planning (7 hours).  


For paralegals in Ontario, licensing requires passing the Law Society of Ontario paralegal licensing exam.  

The paralegal exam is 7 hours, divided into two 3.5 hour sessions (one in the morning, and one in the afternoon). 

The exam tests knowledge of several topics, including Administrative Law, Civil Litigation, Criminal and Quasi-criminal Law, Professional Responsibility, Ethics and Practice Management. 


4. Internship 

For lawyers, getting real-world experience is a mandatory requirement for licensing. Every law student must “article”, which means working under an experienced lawyer for 10 months. 

For paralegals, an internship is required to gain real work experience prior to taking the licensing exam. The internship typically runs for 4 weeks. The college you choose for paralegal training should arrange your internship, and it should be required to graduate from the program.


5. Scope of practice 

Scope of practice is the most significant difference between lawyers and paralegals. 

Lawyers can practice in many areas of law: 

☑️ public law 

☑️ criminal law 

☑️ family law 

☑️ civil litigation 

☑️ real estate law 

☑️ business law 

☑️ wills, trusts and estate administration and planning 


Paralegals are restricted to a limited range of practice areas, such as: 

☑️ small claims court 

☑️ traffic court 

☑️ tribunal work 

☑️ certain criminal matters 


6. Job options 

Both lawyers and paralegals enjoy a wide range of job options.  

Lawyers can work for: 

☑️ A private practice (small or large firms, individual and corporate clients, specialize in a particular area of law) 

☑️ Public interest groups 

☑️ Legal aid 

☑️ Government 


Paralegal job options include working for: 

☑️ Private practice (alone or with other paralegals, specializing in a particular area of law) 

☑️ Corporate legal department 

☑️ Government 

☑️ Lobby groups 

☑️ Non-profit organizations 

☑️ Law firms (as a legal assistant) 


Find out where this paralegal student got hired after graduation: Meet Sadique: My Experience in The Paralegal Program at Herzing


7. Salary 

Demand for paralegals in Ontario has grown in part because they charge quite a bit less than lawyers. 

More people can afford paralegal services, making legal representation more accessible to Ontario residents. 

The median yearly salary for lawyers in Ontario: $131,654 

The median salary for paralegal in Ontario: $48,000 

Data source: 

Note: These are “median” salaries, and do not reflect the earning potential of every lawyer or paralegal.

For example, paralegals in private practice in Ontario can make upwards of $100,000 per year. Government paralegals can make about $70,000 per year. 

See this article for more information on salary: I Want to be a Paralegal: What will my Salary be? 


Still have questions? 

Not sure if becoming a paralegal is right for you? Have questions about career options, training, or how to get started? 

Your next step is to consult with an admissions advisor. Reach out to admissions at the paralegal colleges you’re considering. 

An advisor can guide you through the program, discuss your goals, and help you make an informed decision. 

If you’re interested in Herzing’s accredited Paralegal Program, we invite you to explore the program online, or visit us in person. 

Click below to get started. Learn about the diploma, chat online with an advisor, or book a campus visit. We’re here to help! 

Learn More About Paralegal Training at Herzing