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The Difference Between Paralegals and Law Clerks If you have a burning desire to enter the legal field and are thinking of taking paralegal courses in college, you have probably heard the term "law clerk" and wondered if it was the same thing as a paralegal. Without yet having direct experience in law, some of the terminology that's commonly used in the profession will probably be new to you at first. Several terms might appear to apply to the same thing, which can be very confusing with respect to the various staff members in a legal practice and their particular functions.

"Paralegals" and "law clerks" are both designations that are not always clear to people unfamiliar with law. These positions both provide support to a firm's lawyers. Although they share a few duties, paralegals and law clerks actually perform distinctly different functions in a law office. Read on to discover the differences between these two important legal professions.


A paralegal is a legal specialist who provides professional assistance to law firms. Though there's no set standard for how paralegals must accomplish their work, they typically help lawyers to get cases ready for court and take care of a lot of the clerical duties associated with lawsuits. Paralegals also frequently perform judicial research to help develop a lawyer's case, and may carry out directives issued by lawyers in certain cases.

Law Clerk

A law clerk is also a legal specialist hired by judges or attorneys. Their primary function is to support a judge or lawyer by investigating and identifying all legal alternatives in a lawsuit. They may refer to publications, law guides, case histories, or newspapers.

A law clerk's duties may change a bit if they work with lawyers instead of judges. A lot of college graduates start out by working as a law clerk with a presiding judge or court official, and then may move on to working at law firms, or vice versa.


Perhaps the most important difference between a paralegal and a law clerk is their level of training. Paralegals generally require more education in the industry than law clerks. Paralegals will need to complete paralegal courses and complete a licensing exam to become a paralegal. Unlike law clerks, they are free to provide legal advice.

Although law clerks do work in firms, they’re more apt to work for presiding judges, whereas paralegals are more commonly found working in law firms. In either case, their work is vital for making cases run as well as they possibly can.