How Much Do Paralegals Make? Plus Other FAQs About This Legal Career Answered
You’ve been plodding along in your stable-but-boring job for years. You’re getting tired of spending your drive home daydreaming about what it would be like to have a real career—one where your skills and natural talents are respected and used to their full potential.
You can see yourself in dozens of roles that seem better than the job you have now, but there’s one you keep coming back to: paralegal. You’ve watched enough reruns of shows like Suits and Law & Order to know that your organizational skills and attention to detail could make you a respected part of a legal team.
But there are still plenty of questions lurking in your mind: How much do paralegals make? Are there many paralegal jobs available? What’s the work environment like?
We’re answering these questions and more so you can determine whether pursuing a paralegal career is the right move for you. Read on to get the answers to all your burning questions about a career as a paralegal.
Your paralegal career FAQs answered
You’re ready to do some research and fact-checking about the career you’re considering. That fact itself proves you have the makings of a great paralegal. Let us help you track down some information.
How much do paralegals make?
Your future career also needs to pay the bills, so you’ll be relieved to hear that the median annual salary for paralegals in 2019 was $51,740, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 Just like any industry, the pay rate for paralegals depends on experience and the sector you choose to work in. The BLS reports that on the higher end of the spectrum, paralegals working for the federal government saw a median annual income of $67,080, and the highest 10 percent of paralegals saw earnings of more than $82,000.1
What is the job outlook for paralegals?
It’s all well and good to know that a paralegal salary can potentially cover your expenses, but that doesn’t help you if you can’t find a job in the field. Luckily for aspiring paralegals, the A projected 39,100 paralegal jobs will be added to the workforce by 2028, and one of them could be yours with the right education and preparation.
What do paralegals do on a daily basis?
Is being a paralegal really as glamorous as your favorite drama makes the legal field look? It might not be filled with the thrilling twists and turns of a TV plot, but there’s still plenty to like in your potential day-to-day duties as a paralegal.
This list of common paralegal job duties from the BLS can help you envision what a day in the life of a paralegal looks like1:
- Gather information about a case
- Summarize reports
- Gather and arrange evidence for lawyers to review
- Assist lawyers in research on relevant laws or regulations
- Draft correspondence and/or legal documents
- File legal documents, such as briefs and appeals
- Organize documents
- Schedule meetings between lawyers and clients or witnesses
As you can see, there is a wide variety of tasks to keep a paralegal busy. Paralegals in nearly every industry will encounter daily tasks like these, but job duties can get even more specific depending on which specialty a paralegal chooses to pursue. Your options are wide open for finding a paralegal specialty that fits well with your interests, such as real estate, immigration or corporate law.
What skills and characteristics do paralegals need?
As you’d probably expect from the diverse list of job duties above, paralegals must possess a blend of hard and soft skills in order to excel. But just what paralegal skills are most desirable to employers?
We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 88,000 paralegal jobs posted over the past year.2 This data helped us identify what skills employers are seeking in their paralegal candidates.
Top technical skills for paralegals2:
- Legal documentation
- Legal document composition
- Legal research
- Administrative support
- Case management
- Customer service
- Trial preparation
- Customer billing
Top transferable skills for paralegals2:
- Communication skills
- Attention to detail
- Microsoft Office®
- Computer literacy
Don’t be intimidated by the list of technical skills—these are precisely the types of training you’d receive in a paralegal program. But if you can relate to some of the skills in that second list, you may be naturally inclined to find success in the field!
Where do paralegals work?
Most paralegals work directly in law offices, though a small percentage work for the state or federal government or in the finance and insurance sector, according to the BLS.1 However, the biggest variation in work environment is determined by the specialty a paralegal chooses within the legal field.
There are many types of paralegals who all have different levels of interaction with clients and experience different types of workplaces. This list is just a sample of the work environment a paralegal may encounter:
- Family law paralegals, who spend much of their time interacting directly with clients
- Litigation paralegals, who may split their time between a law office and the courtroom
- Corporate paralegals, who work behind the scenes for their company, rather than interacting directly with clients or courts
All this variety means paralegals can find a specialty and work environment that’s the best match for their unique personalities and skill sets, which is a benefit many other professionals don’t enjoy.
How do you become a paralegal?
Becoming a paralegal requires some training, but there are a few different paths that can lead to this respected legal career. The BLS reports that paralegal hopefuls will likely need an Associate’s degree to land one of these positions, as their work is fairly complex.1 A Paralegal Associate’s degree program will provide training in the workings of the legal system, legal research and subjects like corporate or international law.
For those who already have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree, there are Paralegal Certificate programs that can develop the career-specific skills and competencies needed to hit the ground running. This highly-focused option at Rasmussen College can be completed in as few as 8 months!3
Have you reached your verdict on a paralegal career?
Now that we’ve answered your burning questions about a paralegal salary and beyond, it’s your turn to deliberate and reach a verdict about this as a potential career. Does this sound like a good option for you so far? If so, get a behind-the-scenes look at life in the field in our article, “What I Wish I Knew BEFORE Becoming a Paralegal.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed September 2020] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 88,578 paralegal job postings, Aug. 01, 2019 – Jul. 31, 2020).
3Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
Microsoft Office is a registered trademark of Microsoft, Inc.