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Paralegal Salary Factsheet

A female paralegal

The American Bar Association (ABA) defines a paralegal as “a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.”

Paralegal Salaries (Various Data Sources)

According to data released by the US Department of Labor in 2016, the average salary of a paralegal is $49,500 a year on a national level. 

In their annual salary survey Paralegal Today revealed that the average paralegal pay was $59,773 during 2016. The highest paid were corporate paralegals, their average wage was $71,255 a year. 

Right behind them were those working for the government averaging $60,178 a year. And the third highest paid paralegals were law firm paralegals who averaged $57,359 a year.

Besides the workplace setting, how much a paralegal makes depends also on: their years of experience, formal training, certification speciality and geographical area.

Finally, NALA, the National Association of Legal Assistants, released their 2016 National Utilization/Compensation Survey of paralegals. Conducted every 2 years, this in-depth survey offers a wealth of useful information, including industry trends, paralegal salary data, growing practice areas and demographics of legal assistants. 

According to their 2016 data the average salary was $57,668, with bonuses averaging out at $4,598.

The table below show results for paralegal salaries in 2016 based on years of legal experience

US PARALEGAL SALARY BY YEARS OF EXPERIENCE

Years of Legal Experience

Salary

1-5 years

$40,962

6-10 years

$50,949

11-15 years

$57,034

16-20 years 

$60,107

21-25 years

$62,960

Over 25 years

$67,157

Source: NALA.org - Paralegal Salary Survey 2016

Paralegal Career Planning

Survey demographics in the NALA 2016 compensation survey showed that 94% of the respondents were female and only 5% male while the average age of respondents was 48.

Education Requirements

Most of those entering the paralegal profession have some type of formal education. Although it’s not impossible to get a paralegal job without this, most employers favor those who have completed a paralegal program.

There are numerous paralegal programs available, including full-time, part-time, and online options. No matter your available budget, time allocation and geographic setting, there is an array of paralegal programs to choose from covering Bachelor degrees and Associate’s degrees as well as various types of paralegal certificates. 

Over 75% of respondents in NALA's 2016 compensation survey held a bachelor's or an associate's degree.

Job Growth and Outlook

The U.S. Department of Labor, reported 277,310 jobs in 2016 and the paralegal field is expected to grow much faster than average. In the ten-year period between 2014 and 2024, they project an 8% growth translating to 21,200 new jobs. They also anticipate an increased demand for paralegals in areas such as bankruptcy, medical malpractice and product liability.

Despite this, it’s likely that competition for paralegal positions will remain fairly strong, so the type of paralegal education you have is very important in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Paralegal Duties

Nearly three-fourths of paralegals work for law firms, however, paralegals are also employed by corporations (and other businesses,) governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations. Although paralegals are prohibited from performing certain attorney-specific duties such as giving legal advice, setting legal fees, and presenting cases in court, they can do practically everyting else. Thus, the use of paralegals is rapidly increasing as companies and law firms tighten up their budgets.

The specific work activities of a paralegal can also widely vary depending on both what type of employer they work for (law firm, corporation, government, etc.) and the type of law in which they practice. In general, paralegals perform tasks such as research, drafting documents, and communicating with clients. Their job duties are usually more substantial in nature than those of a legal secretary, who may do things like transcribe correspondence, filing, and other administrative tasks. However, some paralegals at smaller firms may also do these things.

Paralegals usually work in an office setting. They sometimes have their own office, but they may share an office, work in a cubicle, or have a desk in an open area. Most paralegals work a standard Monday through Friday schedule, but some – especially those in litigation – often work overtime, including weekends.

NALA in their 2016 survey revealed that 53% of the respondents claim they "sometimes" worked in excess of their normal working hours

Personal Qualities and Skills You Need To Hone

Being a paralegal can be a challenging, fulfilling job, but it may not be for everyone. Those with certain qualities will find it easier to be a successful paralegal. Paralegals need to be able to work well on a team as well as independently. They should be able to handle constructive criticism, and be comfortable interacting with a variety of people including attorneys, judges, and clients of various backgrounds

Paralegals often juggle many tasks at once - therefore good organizational and time-management skills are required. Paralegals also need a strong attention to detail, as they’ll be drafting legal documents where a small error could have detrimental consequences. Perhaps most importantly, those aspiring to be a paralegal should work hard to develop excellent research, writing skills, and computer skills as these will likely be used on a daily basis in most paralegal positions.

How to Become a Paralegal

Those who are considering a paralegal career should strongly consider completing a paralegal education program. There are numerous options available and sufficient research should be done on any program being considered, including evaluation of cost, instructor qualifications, and job placement assistance. Most paralegal programs offer (or require,) a practicum or internship, where students get practical experience in the legal field.

In addition to obtaining a paralegal education, it can be helpful for aspiring paralegals to join their local paralegal association so they can gain contacts in the field. Some paralegals have also moved into their position after obtaining an entry-level role in a law firm (such as a file or mail clerk,) so this could be an option to consider.