How Much Do Paralegals Make? Plus Other FAQs About This Legal Career Answered
Professionally, you may have simply been “just making it work” for a while now. While managing to get by in a tough world is something to be proud of, you can’t help but wonder what it’d be like to be on a career path you could really thrive in.
You can see yourself in dozens of roles that seem better than the job you have now, but there’s one path you keep coming back to: becoming a paralegal. You’ve watched enough reruns of shows like Law & Order® to know that the legal field is full of intriguing cases and challenging investigative work—and you can imagine how 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 and legal assistants in 2021 was $56,230, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1
Just like any industry, the pay rate for paralegals will depend on experience and the sector you choose to work in. The BLS reports that on the higher end of the spectrum, paralegals and legal assistants working for the federal government saw a median annual salary of $69,680, and the highest 10 percent saw earnings of more than $88,600.1
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 what good is a potential salary if you can’t find a job to pay it? Fortunately for aspiring paralegals, the role appears positioned for growth.
According to the BLS, employment of paralegals and legal assistants is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 through 2030—that means an additional 41,400 jobs are projected to be added during this period.1 The rationale behind this positive projection is largely centered around employers seeking more cost-effective ways to provide legal services—and hiring paralegals in lieu of lawyers provides an excellent option for doing just that.
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 116,000 paralegal and legal assistant jobs posted over the past year.2 This data helped us identify what skills employers are seeking in their paralegal candidates.
Top specialized skills for paralegals:2
- Legal documentation
- Legal document composition
- Scheduling and administrative support
- Legal research
- Case management
- Customer service
- Trial preparation
Top transferable skills for paralegals:2
- Attention to detail
- Microsoft Office®
- Writing ability
- Computer literacy
- Problem solving
Does this sound like it could be you? While you might not have every single specialized skill mastered at this stage, don’t let that intimidate you—these skills can be developed with the formal training and education you’d receive in a paralegal program.
Where do paralegals work?
Most paralegals and legal assistants 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 University can be completed in as few as eight 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 July 2022], 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 116,365 paralegal and legal assistant job postings, Jul. 1, 2021 – Jun. 30, 2022).
3Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
Law & Order is a registered trademark of NBC Universal Media, LLC.
Microsoft Office is a registered trademark of Microsoft, Inc.