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Paralegal Specialist vs. Paralegal: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A career as a paralegal can be both rewarding and challenging. If you’re interested in working in this field, you may be wondering what the difference is between a paralegal specialist and a paralegal. In this article, we explain the duties of each position, discuss the similarities and differences between them and provide helpful tips for those interested in pursuing a career as a paralegal.

What is a Paralegal Specialist?

Paralegal Specialists are responsible for providing legal and administrative support to lawyers. They conduct research, prepare documents, file pleadings with the court and manage correspondence. Paralegal Specialists often specialize in a particular area of law, such as family law, criminal law or real estate law. They might work for a law firm, a government agency or a corporation. Paralegal Specialists typically have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. Some states require Paralegal Specialists to be licensed or certified.

What is a Paralegal?

Paralegals are an important part of any legal team, providing support to lawyers by conducting research, preparing documents and managing cases. Paralegals use their knowledge of the law to help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials and closings. They also help clients by keeping them informed about the status of their case and providing them with updates and documents. Paralegals may work in a variety of legal settings, such as law firms, corporate legal departments, government agencies or non-profit organizations.

Paralegal Specialist vs. Paralegal

Here are the main differences between a paralegal specialist and a paralegal.

Job Duties

Although both paralegal specialists and regular paralegals perform similar tasks, the duties of a specialist are more focused. For example, a litigation paralegal may focus solely on litigation matters like preparing discovery documents, drafting motions and assisting in court hearings and trials. In comparison, a generalist paralegal may perform tasks related to all types of legal issues an organization or individual may face, but they don’t specialize in one area of law.

Job Requirements

Most paralegal programs require a high school diploma or equivalent for admission, though some may prefer candidates to have an associate degree or some college coursework. Paralegal programs typically take two years to complete, although some schools offer four-year bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies as well. These programs include coursework in legal research, writing and ethics. Many paralegal programs are approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Paralegals can also pursue voluntary certification through organizations like the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) or the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). To earn certification, paralegals must pass an exam that tests their knowledge of the profession. Some states also have certification programs for paralegals. Certification is not required to work as a paralegal, but it might help them find a job or advance their career.

Work Environment

Paralegals and paralegal specialists can work in a variety of environments, depending on the type of firm they choose to work for. For example, some paralegal specialists may work at law firms that specialize in corporate law or intellectual property law. Other paralegal specialists may work at government agencies or nonprofit organizations.

Paralegals typically work in law firms, but they also have the option to work as independent contractors. This means that they can work for multiple clients simultaneously and set their own hours. Paralegals who work independently often provide legal services to individuals or small businesses.


There are several similarities in the skills used by paralegal specialists and paralegals. Both roles require excellent research skills, as they often need to find information about cases or laws. They also both need strong writing skills to prepare reports and documents related to their work. Organizational skills are important for both roles, as they often need to keep track of multiple cases or deadlines at one time.

However, there are some differences in the skills used by these two roles. Paralegal specialists tend to use more specialized legal skills than paralegals. For example, they may need to know how to use specific software programs that are used in the legal field. They may also need to have a working knowledge of different areas of law, such as family law or criminal law. Paralegals, on the other hand, may benefit from having interpersonal skills, as they often interact with clients. They may also need to have customer service skills to provide assistance and support to clients.


Paralegals and paralegal specialists can earn an average salary of $59,185 per year and $63,355 per year, respectively. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the size of the company at which you work, location of your job and the level of experience you have prior to pursuing either position.


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