Paralegal Career Profile
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 Data Overview - Various Sources
According to Paralegal Today the average salary of a paralegal is $52,979 on a national level. The highest paid paralegals were those working in a corporate capacity. Their average pay was $61,764. Right behind them were paralegals who were working in law firms earning on average of $51,686 per year and the third highest paid paralegals were those working for the government at $51,028.
Besides the workplace setting, how much a paralegal makes depends also on: their years of experience, formal training, certification speciality and geographical area.
US PARALEGAL SALARY DATA
|Title/ Level of experience||Average||Minimum||Maximum|
|Case Clerk/Assistant with 0-2 years exp.||$35,625||$26,750||$39,250|
|Junior Paralegal/Legal Assistant with 2-3 years exp.||$46,125||$32,000||$51,750|
|Midlevel Paralegal/Legal Assistant with 4-6 years exp.||$58,000||$37,750||$64,250|
|Senior/Supervising Paralegal/Legal Assistant with 7 years + exp.||$69,000||$44,250||$81,250|
|Source: Robert Half Legal - 2012 Salary Guide|
Paralegal Career Planning
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. There are Bachelor degrees and Associate’s degrees as well as various types of paralegal certificates.
Job Growth and Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the paralegal field is expected to grow much faster than average. In the ten-year period between 2008 and 2012, they project a 28% growth. 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 undertake is very important in order to stay ahead of the competition.
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.
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.