There are a lot of reasons becoming a paralegal is both a smart career strategy and an exciting job prospect. It is possible to get the education and credentials necessary to start in a professional position relatively quickly and affordably. The work is interesting, diverse and truly important to the smooth function of our justice system. Plus, the demand for paralegals is expected to be strong and stable moving forward. But in the most practical terms, paralegal salary is what people find most attractive about this career field, along with the reward of the work. If you’re looking to be paid generously and fairly from the beginning of your career onward, paralegal careers are a prospect to consider. Here is some information to help you decide if this career—and its salaries—are for you.
What Does a Paralegal Do?
Paralegals work behind the scenes supporting the work of lawyers. Some of their common responsibilities include drafting documents, completing forms, conducting research, assisting investigations, and working on special projects. In many ways, they are the unsung heroes of the justice system because they perform the kind of detailed, specialized work that enables a lawyer to do his or her job well in and out of court. The specifics of a paralegal’s duties will vary depending on where they work, what kind of credentials they possess and which specialty they focus on.
Where Does a Paralegal Work?
Paralegal are required in any kind organization that has a stake in the law. They are most common in law firms, which maintain large staffs of paralegals to assist attorneys and carry out other roles necessary for the successful operation of the firm. They may also work for non-profits or large businesses that rely on the law to achieve their agendas and objectives. In smaller settings there may be just one or two paralegals on staff while in larger settings they might work on teams of dozens of paralegals organized by specialty or responsibility. The demand for paralegals is steady in every state in the country. It is concentrated in cities and metropolitan areas, but legal organizations located in suburban or rural areas will still require paralegals.
How to Become a Paralegal
Paralegal salary seems even more appealing when you consider how low the barrier to entry is for new professionals. Most states do not have formal requirements for practicing paralegals, though employers will want paralegals to have formal education and training.
There are lots of options for becoming qualified, including these types of education programs:
- Online certificate programs can take a few months to a year to complete and provide an in-road to entry-level paralegal jobs.
- Associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs can take two to four-years and offer a solid foundation to build a career on.
Once in the profession, paralegals who seek out professional development opportunities, such as professional credentials, and engagement within the field can move into more prestigious roles, or join the ranks of lawyers if they decide to pursue law school. A big part of the appeal of a paralegal career is that it quickly opens a lot of doors while giving new professionals flexibility to direct their own career paths.
What is the Paralegal Job Outlook?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the demand for paralegals will be healthy and steady for years to come. There are an estimated 285,600 paralegals working nationally and by 2026 that figure is expected to grow by 15 percent and add over 41,800 new paralegals to the field. It is worth noting that the work of paralegals is largely immune to the technological advances that are eliminating jobs in other industries. In fact, research shows that paralegals are among the first employees in their law firms to grasp technology and use legal software and databases. And while technology might make the duties of paralegals more efficient and productive, it is not expected to replace such an in-demand role.
How Much Do Paralegals Make?
The median annual pay for a paralegal is estimated to be $49,500, says the BLS, with the top 10 percent in the industry earning over $80,260. Those in this tier usually have specialized skills, have accept a supervisory role or work for a prestigious employer.
Median Annual Pay for Paralegal
A big contributing factor to salary is location, and those working in major metropolitan areas generally earn more. Other factors that influence salary include level of education and how many years of experience you have under your belt. As you begin to plan for your paralegal career, consider how paralegal salary breaks down by state according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2019-19:
Search for your state
|State||Median Annual Wage|
|District of Columbia||$73,490|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook
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