Should you hire a lawyer or a paralegal?

Should you hire a lawyer or a paralegal?

If you can afford a lawyer, hire one.

If you can’t afford a lawyer, hire a paralegal.

If you’re able to swing it, hire both.

You will always do best with an experienced lawyer and an experienced paralegal on your legal team.

Not made of money?

You’re not alone. Most people can’t afford to hire both and they’re stuck between picking a lawyer or a paralegal. That big decision usually comes down to dollars and cents. Most people can afford to hire a paralegal to help out with their legal matter. On the other hand, only a small handful of people have the kind of cash laying around that lawyers ask for upfront to provide full representation services because the average hourly rate for a lawyer is around $350.00 – $500.00 per hour with an upfront deposit in the range of $5,000.00 to $10,000.00 to get started. Some people meet the criteria to qualify for assistance from low-income programs like Legal Aid, but the rest are left scrambling to come up with the cash or to represent themselves in court.

The lack of affordable options has created a need for alternative legal support services such as:

  • Limited scope services – some people hire a lawyer to complete only a small piece of the work instead of paying for traditional full representation. For example, the lawyer might be hired only to help with child support and the client is left to deal with any parenting issues or family property matters that may arise.

  • Independent paralegals – some people may hire a “non-lawyer” legal professional for a small fee to help with legal paperwork and navigating court alone. An independent paralegal can be hired to draft court documents but it’s usually up to the self-represented party to file them and go to court.

  • Support workers – some people work with a volunteer “non-lawyer” support worker to fill out paperwork using a common-sense approach instead of based on legal training or experience. These professionals are usually social workers filled with good intentions that often make mistakes.

  • Legal coaching services – some people hire a lawyer or non-lawyer to learn to navigate the court system and paperwork as a self-represented person. A legal coach does not fill out paperwork or go to court, but they instead clearly explain to the self-represented person how to do it themselves.

Should you hire a lawyer or a paralegal?

If you can afford a lawyer, hire one.

Legal services that are offered by lawyers are regulated by the Law Society of Alberta. Lawyers are well educated and specifically trained to assist people with navigating their legal matters. Lawyers jump through a ton of hoops to have the privilege of practicing law. Lawyers are the only professionals that are allowed to give legal advice in Alberta. For this reason, lawyers should be the first choice to be hired whenever possible. 

If you can’t afford a lawyer, hire a paralegal.

For people that cannot afford to hire a lawyer and have exhausted all options, hiring an independent paralegal is the next best option. Paralegals usually have some form of special legal training and experience working in legal matters and they can be extremely helpful despite not being permitted to give any legal advice.

How do paralegals compare to lawyers?

To put it into perspective:

  • Lawyers are educated and trained to be leaders. As leaders, lawyers make the big decisions using on the facts of a case and the applicable laws. Those decisions fall into the realm of legal advice.

  • Paralegals are educated but trained to be followers. Paralegals usually work on a team of lawyers providing behind the scenes support to a supervising lawyer. Paralegals do not make big decisions or give legal advice. Paralegals simply follow instructions given to them by someone else.

In traditional law firm settings, lawyers give paralegals their instructions. Lawyers rely heavily on their paralegals to assist with the “behind the scenes” legal paperwork so the lawyer can focus on the actual legal representation. Many people do not realize how much a paralegal contributed to their legal matter because the lawyer swooped in and took credit for their work.

When a paralegal becomes independent, the paralegal takes instructions directly from a client. The paralegal is still a follower. There is just no lawyer in the middle to filter the client instructions or to give the client legal advice. This cuts costs and can produce high quality paperwork and assistance to the self-represented party. However, it’s riskier because neither the client nor the paralegal are trained to be leaders. 

Should you hire an experienced Paralegal or a junior Lawyer?

We are not going to comment on the value of a formal education as a leader compared to hands on experience as a follower. From a cost perspective, it is possible to find a new lawyer with hourly rates comparable to the average rate of an independent paralegal. It would be best to hire both but if costs only allowed one option, the decision would ultimately be a personal one to make. The Edmonton Family Network can provide referrals to suitable third-party service providers.

The Edmonton Family Network was designed to be used as a resource to anyone dealing with a difficult family situation. The Edmonton Family Network is familiar with the current limitations of the legal system and the barriers many people face trying to access and afford legal services. The Edmonton Family Network aims to educate and connect people with affordable resources and service providers that can help.

Edmonton Family Network has connections to legal professionals and community support services.

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