Paralegal vs. Lawyer: How the Roles Compare in Ontario

Paralegals in Ontario have a special status that they don’t enjoy anywhere else in Canada. 

In this province, 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 how the roles stack up so you can decide which one is best for you 

1. PARALEGAL VS. LAWYER: SCOPE OF PRACTICE

As noted above, paralegals can function like lawyers—but only in specific matters.

Lawyers can practice in any area of law, including:

  • Civil litigation
  • Criminal law
  • Bankruptcy law
  • Corporate lawcontracts, mergers, corporate governance, etc.
  • Family lawseparation and divorce, division of property, child custody and access, adoption, etc.
  • Intellectual property lawtrademarks, copyrights, patents, etc.
  • Real estate lawtitle searches, transfers, leases, liens, property rights, etc.
  • Wills and estateswills, trusts, powers of attorney, estate planning, etc.

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

  • Small claimsdisputes over things like unpaid rent, property damage, or personal injuries, where the claim is for $35,000 or less
  • Traffic courtoffences like speeding, running a red light, leaving the scene of an accident, or driving with a suspended licence
  • Certain criminal matters where the maximum punishment is six months in jail, a $5,000 fine, or both (examples include disturbing the peace, soliciting prostitution, and unlawful assembly)
  • Hearings before boards and tribunals, such as the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Landlord and Tenant Board, the Financial Services Tribunal, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board

Note: The Law Society of Ontario, which regulates lawyers and paralegals, is considering a proposal to create a special licence that would allow paralegals to provide some family law services.

 

2. PARALEGAL VS. LAWYER: EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS 

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

Lawyers have a long educational road, which starts with completing a bachelor’s degree (in any subject). This typically takes four years. 

Then you have to pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test).

Once you’re in law school, you’ll spend three years earning a Juris Doctor or JD degree.

In total, that’s seven years of post-secondary training. 

For paralegals, the educational requirements are much simpler. You only need to complete a paralegal program that’s accredited by the Law Society of Ontario (see a full list here).

Most are certificate or diploma programs that are one to two years long, though you can opt for a four-year bachelor’s degree. 

You don’t need an undergraduate degree to apply to paralegal training.  

 

3. PARALEGAL VS. LAWYER: LICENSING 

All lawyers must be licensed to practice in Ontario.

That requires passing the bar exam, which is actually two separate tests (barrister and solicitor).

Real-world experience is also a mandatory requirement for licensing. Law students mustarticle,which involves working under an experienced lawyer for 10 months.

As an alternative to articling, you could complete the Law Practice Program, which runs for eight months.

Paralegals must pass their own licensing exam. (However, you don’t need a licence to work as a legal assistant under the supervision of a lawyer.)

Before you can take the exam, you must complete at least 120 hourstypically four weeksof real work experience through an internship.

All accredited paralegal programs arrange internships for their students, and you will have to complete one in order to graduate.

 

4. PARALEGAL VS. LAWYER: SALARY 

As you might expect given their more extensive education and responsibilities, lawyers earn significantly more than paralegals.

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, lawyers in Ontario make a median salary of about $132,000. The top earners make over $357,000 per year.

Paralegals in the province have a median salary of roughly $59,000. However, the highest-paid paralegals earn upwards of $100,000and that’s without spending seven years in university.

 

5. PARALEGAL VS. LAWYER: EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK

According to Ontario government estimates, employment of both lawyers and paralegals is expected to grow by 11 to 12 per cent between 2021 and 2025.

Demand for paralegals 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. 

 

interested in becoming a paralegal? 

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. 

Click below to explore Herzing’s accredited paralegal program, chat online with an advisor, or book a campus visit. We’re here to help!

Learn More About Paralegal Training at Herzing

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