Paralegal Salary: Entry-Level, Average and Top-Earning Paralegal Specialties
Paralegals, also referred to as legal assistants, are professionals who perform a variety of tasks under attorney supervision. Paralegals most often work in law firms, but can also be employed by corporations, government entities, non-profit organizations, and elsewhere. A paralegal’s duties tend to be more substantive than administrative in nature and commonly include tasks like conducting legal and factual research, meeting with clients, preparing legal documents, filing documents with the court, drafting correspondence, and assisting with trials.
Average Paralegal Salaries
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the average annual salary of a paralegal in 2016 was $49,500. In addition to their salaries, many paralegal also receive bonuses and other benefits such as vacation and sick time, health insurance, and reimbursement for expenses related to furthering their paralegal career. According to the 2016 NALA survey, paralegals received an average compensation of $61,671 per year.
Starting Paralegal Salaries
According to PayScale.com, paralegals with 1 to 4 years of experience reported an average salary of $39,631 per year.
The 2016 NALA survey coincides with this, their findings show that the average salary for paralegals with less than five years of legal experience is $40,962.
Thus an entry-level paralegal who has no legal experience and has completed a paralegal education program can likely expect a first-year salary in the range of $29,000 to $36,000.
The top 10 specialty practice areas s include: Civil Litigation, Corporate, Contracts, Real Estate, Administrative/Government/Public, Personal Injury, Insurance, Employment/Labor Law, Probate, and Commercial Law.
How Education Affects Salaries
The table below shows the average salaries by education obtained from the 2016 NALA survey. What is interesting to note is that paralegals with just a High School Diploma earned slightly more than those with AD. A possible explanation could be the years of experience and level of expertise. A high school diploma holder with 10-20 years of legal experience would indeed earn more than those with an AD and just 5-10 years of legal experience.
Salary by Education
High School / GED
How Certification Affects Salaries
NALA surveyed 1,226 paralegals from October to November 2016. Of those who responded 95% were female, in their mid-40’s and most had the certified paralegal (CP) credential. Here's the 2016 salary data by credential received. The highest salary was earned by those with advanced certified paralegal (ACP) credential.
Salary by association
Non Advanced Certified
How the Economy Affects Salaries
The state of the U.S. economy affects the demand for legal work in many areas, such as causing an increased need for services in the areas such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, and divorces. In addition, in light of the large aging population, there is a high demand for legal services related to elder law and healthcare law. All of these economic shifts result in the increased use of paralegals, as paralegals can do much of the same work as attorneys at a much lower cost. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the paralegal field will experience much faster than average employment growth. The high demand for qualified paralegals can result in higher wages for paralegals.
Factors that Affect a Paralegal’s Salary
The salary for paralegal jobs can vary widely depending on a number of variables. In general, paralegals see their earnings increase as they gain legal experience. In addition, paralegals with higher levels of education usually earn more. How much a paralegal makes can also vary by geographic region. According to the BLS, the highest paying states for paralegals are California, New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. Along with that, those employed in large metropolitan areas and who work for large law firms, corporations, or the government tend to earn salaries on the higher end of the spectrum. The highest paying areas of law for paralegals include Finance, Corporate Law, Intellectual Property, Employment Law, and Securities/Antitrust Law. For example, according to NALA, the average salary of a paralegal working in Intellectual Property law (which pertains to trademarks, copyrights, etc.) is $61,133.
How to Earn a Higher Paralegal Salary
The top 5% of paralegals in the United States earn salaries of more than $80,260 per year. There are several things that can be done to earn a higher paralegal salary - one of the most beneficial being the attainment of a higher level of education. Paralegals who have a High School diploma should consider working towards a paralegal certificate or associate’s degree, and those who have an associate’s degree should consider taking additional classes to complete a Bachelor’s degree. There are many flexible options for paralegal studies available, including online programs, evening and weekend courses, and part and full-time programs.
Paralegals who desire a higher salary could also aim to specialize in a high-demand area of law, such as intellectual property or employment law. This could include taking continuing education courses on the topic, which are often paid for by a paralegal’s employer. Getting involved with a local paralegal association and networking with other members can also lead to a higher paying position.