What Is the Average Paralegal Salary? Plus Other FAQs About This Legal Career Answered
You’ve been plodding along in your stable-but-boring job for years, and 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 the team at a law office.
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 paralegal career.
Your future career also needs to pay the bills, so you’ll be relieved to hear that the median annual salary for paralegals in 2017 was $50,410, 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 income of $65,970, and the highest 10 percent of paralegals saw earnings of more than $81,000!*
It’s all good and well to see a salary potential that covers your expenses, but that doesn’t help you if you can’t find a job in the field. Luckily for aspiring paralegals, the BLS reports that paralegal jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 15 percent through 2026—that’s nearly double the national average of 7.4 percent. A projected 41,800 paralegal jobs will be added to the workforce by 2026, and one of them could have your name on it.
Is being a paralegal really as glamorous as your favorite drama makes the legal field look? It might not be filled with the exciting twists and turns of a TV plot, but there’s still plenty to love about the day-to-day 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 like:
- 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, healthcare or corporate law.
The job duties above are common for many paralegals, but your natural skills and characteristics can also help you land more interesting work assignments. “The critical factor is the skill set that the person brings to the table,” says Edward Griffith, attorney at Adelphi Law. “The better the skill set, the more interesting and challenging the assignments.”
In addition to working knowledge of the law in your specific industry, as well as technical skills like electronic discovery, a successful paralegal will also have these skills, according to the Department of Labor (DOL):2
- Reading comprehension
- Active listening
- Verbal and written communication
- Critical thinking
- Time management
- Active learning
- Judgment and decision making
“The legal field is demanding, so attention to detail and a certain meticulousness is critical,” Griffin adds. If organization skills, effective communication and the ability to do in-depth research are all items you could put on your resume, then you just might have the makings of a successful paralegal.
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. 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.
Becoming a paralegal requires some training, but there are several different paths that can lead to this respected 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. A Paralegal 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 a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject or who simply want to take their legal know-how a step further, there are several paralegal certification programs that are recognized by the American Bar Association. Paralegals can achieve certification by passing an exam or meeting education and experience requirements.
Now that we’ve answered all 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, you’ll want to check out our article, “What I Wish I Knew BEFORE Becoming a Paralegal,” to get a look at what paralegal professionals want the next generation to know as they consider this career.
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed April 30, 2018] 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.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, [career data accessed April 30, 2018] www.bls.gov/oes/.