In the legal field, paralegals are becoming one of the most sought-after members of a legal team. Paralegal salary ranges across the country often reflect this high-demand. While salaries can vary depending on things like location, level of education and experience, the room for growth and advancement remains the same.
Paralegals are often hired by private law firms or corporations to support a legal team. Instead of having lawyers doing things like filling out legal documents, filing motions at the courthouse or doing research, a firm can hire a specially trained paralegal to work under a lawyer. This frees up the lawyers to do their work while paralegals manage other parts of the caseload. Just as there are many types of lawyers, there are also many types of paralegals.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is a professional position that supports the work of a lawyer or team of lawyers. This position is directly supervised by a lawyer and may do things like create court documents, gather information for trials and other tasks needed to prepare for court. They can also play a key role in creating business documents connected to finance, banking and employment law.
One thing this position cannot do is offer legal advice; they only allow them to work under an attorney. A paralegal completes a certain level of education to prepare them to work with legal documents and court requirements, but mostly they have not been to law school. At the minimum, they hold a two-year degree.
Education & Certification
The training or certification a paralegal holds is one of the most significant deciding factors of the individual paralegal salary. Paralegals can start with a two-year degree from a community college, enroll in a Bachelor's degree or even pursue a graduate-level certificate if they already have a four-year degree.
For paralegals who already have a four-year degree, there is a certificate program that allows them to complete the required training without getting another college degree. This is how some end up being certificated without being certified. They award the certificate upon completion of a school program that does not end in a degree.
A certificate program rarely requires any board testing at the end of the educational requirements. Several national organizations offer a paralegal certification process. This is where a state or national testing board can increase the paralegal salary range.
The following organizations offer certification programs for paralegals who have completed both the educational requirement and at least some on-the-job experience:
Just as a lawyer can focus on a variety of types of law to practice, paralegals can also focus on one or more types of practice they want to focus on. There are some who help clients navigate through things like filing for bankruptcy while others that work in a federal courtroom supporting a Judge.
Paralegals can help in law firms as they prepare to take a case to court or they can also work in a corporate environment in a legal department. There are also often paralegals in human resource departments or employee relations of larger companies. Explore just some of the positions available to consider when comparing paralegal salary ranges and careers.
Criminal Law Paralegal
These paralegals can work for either the defense or prosecution. They work directly with attorneys by creating court documents, letters to clients, interviewing witnesses and filing papers with the local or federal courts. They often file paperwork with the local courthouse including motions and other requests.
Working under an immigration lawyer, these paralegals support clients are becoming naturalized citizens, filing for a variety of visas, dealing with immigration problems or trying to adopt a child from outside of the United States. This paralegal may work for a private law firm, a Non-profit Organization or part of the government. The most significant part of this job entails gathering information about each case, creating reports and supporting courtroom activities.
Corporate lawyers depend on their paralegals to help draft essential business documents and file all the needed state and federal documents for business. This is where things like employment law, finance, accounting, banking and everything related to the legal side of the day-to-day operations of a business are taken care of within a company.
They involve paralegals that work for litigation law firms in the full process of taking a case to court. This starts with the initial gathering of facts, interviewing witnesses and cataloging anything that might become evidence for a trial. This also includes creating all the court materials like the pleadings, motions and settlement documents. Often a paralegal becomes the go-between from the court officials to the client. Another critical function of this paralegal is the creation of case arguments and the needed legal supports.
While the term legal assistant and paralegal used to be interchangeable, this is no longer the case. A legal assistant is now a paralegal who has passed the NALA testing to become a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA). This means they not only have completed the required class work but also have the advanced skills needed to assist all the work of an attorney directly.
Personal Injury Paralegal
Paralegals working within law firms that handle personal injury cases often have a very specialized set of skills. Not only are they working with court documents and procedures but also dealing with medical records and follow-up. This can mean these paralegals garner some higher paralegal salary ranges since their knowledge fine-tuned and unique. They must be able to work with the doctor's offices, insurance companies, the court while also preparing to take the case to trial.
While a paralegal supports the attorneys, they work under directly with things like drafting court papers and gathering information, and the legal secretary performs the more administrative tasks in a law office. This is sometimes the entry-level position for a law firm and the lower starting point for a paralegal salary. This can include doing things like answering the phones, scheduling for attorneys and maintaining files.
United States Court Positions
Some students that have completed training to be a paralegal look to the court system for careers. This can include taking a position as a clerk for a judge, court reporter, legal secretary or other administrative support in the courthouse.
Average Paralegal Salary
When looking at paralegal salary ranges, several factors influence how much someone pays them. This includes years on the job, type of position, training, and location. Because there is a wide range of flexibility tied to the position someone trained to be a paralegal can hold, there is a wide salary pay range.
An entry-level paralegal with the required educational background but little experience can start at around $37,000 on average. They can expect to make more than that starting out in larger cities. For example, paralegals in San Francisco make 41% more than the national average while those in Seattle make about 20% above the national average. Paralegals in San Diego, Washington DC and Dallas make about 12% above the national average. Cost of living in some of these areas can balance out the higher pay.
At the mid-career point with between five and ten years on the job, a paralegal can expect to make the national average of $47,000. After over ten years on the job, they can hit the national average of $51,000. Paralegals with over 15 years of on-the-job experience on average can earn upwards of $55,000. Because these are average salaries, things like position duties, location and certifications can also increase the pay rates.
When considering a job as a paralegal, several things can influence the amount they pay someone. This includes the location of the position, the amount of schooling the paralegal has had, how many years of experience they have and also what specific duties they will manage. There are also things beyond the salary to consider on-the-job satisfaction and personal career growth.
Even exploring the work environment or kind of law they want to support can impact salary. For example, working in a non-profit that helps immigrants with their court cases may be rewarding on an emotional level but will not pay as much as a paralegal working in a corporate business office. They are also probably not going to make as much as a person working in a federal courtroom as a clerk for a judge. Just as lawyers go into the legal field for a variety of reasons, the same is true for paralegals.
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