By Diane Turner
There are currently around 256,000 paralegals working in the United States with an anticipated 46,900 positions set to become available by 2020. These individuals are trained to assist lawyers, mainly by preparing documents, organizing and maintaining files or conducting research. The specific duties that need to be completed will vary based on the type of firm the paralegal works for and the type of training they have received.
With so much of the legal research and writing process being translated to the online venue, it is highly recommended that paralegals have a strong computer background. Database management and writing skills are also highly recommended. Those that can read quickly and perform research efficiently are also encouraged to take advantage of positions in this field.
Paralegals will typically work for corporations, government agencies and law firms. They will be expected to work full time, typically during standard business hours. However, when a large case comes in or additional work need to be done they may be asked to work late to complete work by a given deadline. Those that have purchased access to a law database will be able to complete some of this work at home when necessary.
Those that wish to work as a paralegal will need to get a certificate in the field. This is typically earned in addition to other educational pursuits. You can earn an associate’s degree in paralegal studies or earn a bachelor’s degree in a similar field and then take a certification course later. Some offices, such as patient offices encourage applicants to have a scientific or technological background in addition to their paralegal studies.
Paralegal certification programs must be approved by the American Bar Association in order to work in most law fields. However, the applicant will not need to take the bar exam to enter into this field. Because of this, many students in law school will work as paralegals to gain experience before they move out into the field. This can also help these individuals build contacts that will help them move up in their law careers later.
Paralegal Average Salary
The average paralegal salaryis $49,960, but several factors can influence how much a specific employee will be paid. The most influential dynamic that will influence a paralegal’s salary is the specific firm that the individual works with and how much business they do. The location of the firm and the level of experience the paralegal has can also ensure a better salary for paralegals.
Paralegal Salary Factors and Influences
There are a number of factors that will have a distinct impact on how much you can make working as a paralegal. Much of this comes down to the type of office you work for once you enter into the field. Look at the highest levels of employmentand the paralegal average salary associated with these positions.
Federal Executive Branch: Average Salary $64,750
Local Government: Average Salary $50,980
Management of Enterprises and Companies: $59,390
Legal Services: Average Salary $47,790
State Government: Average Salary $44,850
Traditional legal offices offer one of the higher salaries in the field, but many of the higher salaries are earned by taking on government positions instead. Working for the government allows you to take on consistent work without having to worry about the number of cases coming in.
Some of these employers are also responsible for hiring the most paralegals within their firm. Note the highest concentration of paralegalsin these given fields, which also offer the salary of a paralegal that is rivaled by many other firms.
Legal Services: 16.42 percent of employment
Federal Executive Branch: .70 percent of employment
State Government: .46 percent of employment
These offices are typically responsible for hiring more paralegals because there is a wider variety of offices that will be hiring paralegals. Much of the reason why the average salary here is higher is because some law firms or advanced governmental positions will offer a significantly higher salary than other firms, driving up the average.
While the areas listed above are some of the top areas hiring paralegals, they are not necessary the best paying. Listed below are the top paying industries that make use of paralegals in their offices.
Manufacturing of Petroleum and Coal Products: Average Salary $81,480
Software Publishers: Average Salary $77,520
Mail-Order Houses and Electronic Shopping: Average Salary $73,330
Gas and Oil Extraction: Average Salary $71,110
Peripheral Equipment and Computer Manufacturing: Average Salary $69,470
The salary for a paralegal is directly tied to the profits of the company hiring their services. Large companies are typically more willing to pay more for legal assistance, particularly if they have a great deal of intellectual property that they will need to protect. Corporations are much more willing to compensate their legal team well, because their paralegals will be expected to prep contracts and agreements that will act as binding legislation for their business.
It should be noted that while these positions will pay more for paralegal services, they are also more likely to require more experience in the field before they will hire people to fill these positions. This may also include requiring those applying for paralegal positions within these companies to have a higher level of education before they apply.
Positions in major corporations such as these may also require the applicant to have a specialization in addition to their paralegal training. A background or degree in business or science may help you perform the necessary research to build comprehensive documents. Corporations that plan to work on a great deal of intellectual property or computer based work may ask that their paralegals have a computer or journalism based background that can help them understand how to structure these documents more effectively. These requirements will vary from firm to firm so it is important to make note of these requirements while completing your education to ensure that you are prepared for the type of job you would like to pursue.
Paralegal Salary Compared To Related Fields
The paralegal average salary is typically higher than similar jobs in the field, as noted below.
Average Paralegal Salary:$49,960
Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: $34,660
Claims Examiners, Investigators and Appraisers: $58,460
Occupational Health and Safety Technicians: $45,330
As you can see, theaverage salary of a paralegal is at least half of what the average lawyer will make. This is because a position as a paralegal will require significantly less education than becoming a licensed lawyer. Lawyers will need to finish a professional degree and pass the bar in any state they wish to practice in while paralegals only need to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to begin working in their field.
Paralegal Salary by State
The highest paralegal salary by state is largely based on the economy and type of businesses located in a specific area. Notice the top paying states that hire paralegals below.
Paralegal Salary in District of Colombia: $68,120
Paralegal Salary in California: $59,030
Paralegal Salary in New Jersey: $56,370
Paralegal Salary in New York: $54,840
Paralegal Salary in Illinois: $53,640
These states tend to have a larger number of private businesses that require legal representation to protect their interests. There are also a larger number of government agencies in these areas that will require legal researchers to perform basic initial research to complete documents and other materials within the office.
Understand that the highest paying states may not be the states that have the highest number of paralegals working in this area. Noted below is the paralegal salary by state based on concentration of employers in the area.
Paralegal Salary in District of Colombia: $68,120
Paralegal Salary in Delaware: $50,870
Paralegal Salary in West Virginia: $38,610
Paralegal Salary in Florida: $46,810
Paralegal Salary in New York: $54,840
You can see that having a high concentration of paralegals does not necessarily improve the average salary for a paralegalin this area. Many times the concentration of paralegals in an area is caused by a smaller population in the area. In other cases, such as in the District of Colombia, the concentration of paralegals is caused by an increased presence of government agencies. Doing your research before you commit to an area to advance your law career will help ensure you make the right commitment.
Paralegal Types of Salaries
Paralegal I: Average Salary $47,494
Initial level paralegals will be asked to solve legal issues under the supervision of an attorney. They will be asked to analyze sources and provide a summary that will be used to crate articles, legal codes or other documents. After some experience has been obtained they may be asked to assist in the preparation of legal documents under the supervision of the attorney. These positions require an associate’s degree or similar training and up to two years of experience.
Paralegal II: Average Salary $54,358
Level two paralegals will perform research to complete legal documents. They will typically be asked to look up specific statutes or decisions that will be required to complete legal briefs or casework in the office. Those working at this level are encouraged to have 2-5 years of experience in the legal field or a similar area and an associate’s degree.
Paralegal III: Average Salary $62,871
Level three paralegals are asked to manage routine legal issues such as performing research. They will provide initial drafts that will allow the attorney to complete necessary legal documents and assist the attorney with any sort of necessary office work. You must have at least 5-8 years of experience in the law field to take on this position and a bachelor’s degree is strongly encouraged.
Paralegal IV: Average Salary $72,680
A level four paralegal will provide support directly to an attorney. They will perform research and analyze legal sources such as treaties, constitutions, statutes, judicial decisions, codes or documents to provide information to complete a variety of legal paperwork. These positions require at least a bachelor’s degree and around eight years of experience in the field to ensure that you can manage tasks efficiently.
Paralegal Manager: Average Salary $85,831
Paralegal managers will be responsible for overseeing other paralegals in the firm and ensuring that they finish their assigned work in a timely manner. They will provide research, recorded decisions and other articles or documents to paralegals so they can complete their work. Managers will also oversee the completion of contracts, briefs, appeals or will to ensure that they are completed properly. Those hoping to become a paralegal manager must complete a bachelor’s degree and have at least eight years of experience in law or a related area.
History of Paralegals
Paralegals have been considered an essential part of the law profession since the 1970s. The position was created to allow law firms that saw a high volume of cases get through their daily duties more efficiently. With the right training, paralegals actually helped lawyers get through a larger number of cases by taking on all the basic prep work. The salary for a paralegal has remained relatively steady throughout this time period as it is a relatively new profession. Much of the growth in this industry has been from the increasing demand for lawyers throughout the industry. Because of the wide variety of positions available throughout the industry it can be difficult to predict how this job market will change in the future.
Paralegal Salary Outlook – Conclusion
The paralegal industry is expected to grow by about 18 percent by 2020. This is only slightly higher than normal with jobs in the general legal field growing by about 11 percent during this time period and the average job field growing by 14 percent. The salary of a paralegal may grow during this time period, but much of this growth will be subjective based on where the paralegal will be working and their responsibilities within the firm.
Many firms are hoping to cut back on their costs, particularly those that perform government cases like disability or social security cases. These cases are spending more time in court, making it take longer to get payment for the work completed. The average salary for a paralegal will not be affected by these issues as they are paid for work that is done in advance of a case going to court or receiving settlement.
The average salary of a paralegalis significantly less than hiring another partner for a law firm. In order to cut down costs, firms are hiring a team of paralegals to take on tasks that would have originally gone to a junior partner or associate. This is increasing the number of positions available to those that would like to work in the law field without the hassle of needing to get a graduate level degree.