Paralegal Salary: Requirements, Education, and More

Paralegal Salary - gavel

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?

paralegal salary- paralegal signage

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

paralegal salary - inside the library

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:

  • ​National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers both the Certified Paralegal (CP) and Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC)
  • ​Americans Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI) offers a Paralegal Certification Program
  • ​National Association of Legal Secretaries offers three certificate programs, the entry level Accredited Legal Professional (ALP), Certified Legal Professional (CLP) and the Profesional Paralegal (PP)
  • ​National Federation of Paralegal Associates offers a CORE program for basic certification called the CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) and the more advanced Registered Paralegal (RP)

​Career Path

​paralegal salary - Career Path

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

​​Immigration Paralegal

​Corporate Paralegal

​Litigation Paralegal

​Legal Assistant

​Personal Injury Paralegal

​Legal Secretary

​United States Court Positions

​Average Paralegal Salary

paralegal salary - coins and calculator

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.

 

Conclusion

paralegal salary - typewriter typing paralegal

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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