For_the_Public

Lawyers & Legal Agents / Paralegals / Legal Assistants

Do you know the difference between lawyers and legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants?

Are you drafting a will, purchasing a home, defending yourself on a criminal charge, or fighting for the custody of your children? Resolving these and other complex legal matters may result in consequences of which you are not aware.

If you are involved in a legal process, you may encounter many circumstances and situations which require legal assistance to be resolved effectively.

Paralegals and legal assistants are an integral part of many law offices and perform a valuable function when working directly under the supervision of a lawyer. However, legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants are not lawyers and they cannot give legal advice.

Do you know the difference between lawyers and legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants?

Consider the facts before you purchase legal assistance.

Lawyers

Governed by the Law Society of Alberta

Alberta lawyers are governed by the Law Society of Alberta and regulated by the Legal Profession Act. The Society establishes and enforces standards of conduct, credentials, education and client protection that all Alberta lawyers must meet to practice law.

Training

Lawyers must complete years of university education and practical training, including one year of articling (apprenticeship) under the supervision of a lawyer, followed by comprehensive entrance examinations, before they are licensed to practise law. Throughout their careers, lawyers have a professional responsibility to maintain and improve legal skills and knowledge through continuing professional development.

Ethical standards

The ethical obligations of lawyers are well defined by statute and history, and monitored by the Law Society of Alberta. Lawyers who fail to meet those standards may be subject to discipline including fines, suspension and disbarment.

Confidentiality and privilege

Lawyers are required by ethics and by law to keep your personal information confidential. Most private conversations with a lawyer are privileged. Under normal circumstances your lawyer can not testify against you. Only in rare circumstances can the information be revealed.

Accountability

The Law Society of Alberta strictly enforces financial and ethical regulations on all Alberta lawyers. This includes a minimum of $1 million mandatory professional liability insurance, which protects clients from loss due to negligence. An assurance fund protects clients who suffer a loss due to a lawyer’s theft of money or other property.

Fees

Fees are negotiated between the client and the lawyer, who is required to provide the client with a retainer letter or agreement that details fees.

Longevity

Lawyers are required - even if they move, retire or die - to keep their clients’ files confidential and preserve those files for a period of time. Most files are retained for a minimum of 10 years, some are never destroyed.

Legal Agents/Paralegals/Legal Assistants

No regulation or governance

There is no governing body in charge of legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants. When problems arise, you have no recourse for review, complaint or discipline of a legal agent, paralegal, or legal assistant’s conduct.

No formal training

No governing body means there are no minimum or consistent standards of education, training or competence for legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants.

No ethical standards

The conduct and ethics of legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants are not regulated by any professional body.

No confidentiality or privilege

Your private conversations with a legal agent, paralegal or legal assistant are not confidential or protected by privilege. They can be called as a witness against you.

Accountability

Legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants are not accountable as there is no governing or regulatory body to set or maintain standards of service. In addition, they are not required to be insured.

Fees

While a legal agent, paralegal or legal assistant may charge less than a lawyer on an hourly basis, they often charge more than lawyers for an equivalent service. You have no avenue for complaint if you feel you are overcharged.

Longevity

Legal agents, paralegals and legal assistants are not required to preserve your files, let alone keep them confidential. When the legal agent moves, your client files may not be properly disposed of and could end up in a landfill or back alley dumpster.

This webpage is intended to provide general information only. When you have a legal problem it is best to consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, you can call the Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-661-1095.