Legal Clerk and paralegal are terms used commonly across the legal fraternity, with both job occupants dealing with different legal work. While paralegals commonly assist lawyers and attorneys, law clerks are tasked with assisting judges.
The biggest difference between the two is the scope of their duties. Law clerks usually help judges handle cases, which is unlike the work of a court clerk, who deals with various administrative issues. While law clerks can help lawyers and attorneys as well, that work is usually handled by paralegals, who cater to the needs of their legal firm or team. A paralegal handles all case related files, research and drafts in order to facilitate the core team of lawyers.
The concept of law clerks is a very old one. When lawyers were not able to attend law schools they worked under certified lawyers and assisted them with research and drafting. However, as the legal profession evolved and law schools began to take centre stage, law clerk positions became highly competitive, with fresh and able law graduates filling them up in order to gain experience and boost their careers.
Paralegal on the other hand, is a relatively new profession, which began in the late 1950s. The post was once given the status of ‘legal assistant’ but with greater demand, a training program was established in 1970s, giving the legal assistants the higher title of paralegal. Their work usually coincides with the work of a lawyer but according to various countries, they are not authorized to provide legal services or appear before the court, but are specifically trained to handle routine legal tasks. However, in Ontario, Canada, they are licensed in the same way as a lawyer or an attorney.