Paralegals also known as legal assistants work in the legal field as assistants to lawyers. They perform mainly a supportive role within a law firm or legal department. Some of their responsibilities include, performing the menial work necessary for the development of legal cases or the drafting of legal documents. Paralegals are often the individuals who are in direct contact with clients. When someone calls a law office, they most likely will interact with the paralegal before talking to an attorney directly. Interviewing clients and collecting details of a case are part of their responsibilities. Their legal research and investigations are integral to an attorneys ability to build solid legal arguments.
National Average Paralegal Salary
Hourly Wage Annual Wage
Upper: $37.42 $77,830
Median: $23.24 $48,350
Lower: $14.56 $30,280
States With Highest Salary
State Avg. Hourly Wage Avg. Annual Wage
- District of Columbia $36.03 $74,930
- Alaska $31.21 $64,920
- California $29.30 $60,940
- New Jersey $27.69 $57,600
- Washington $27.21 $56,590
*All statistical data is from the U.S. Department of Labor and is updated quarterly
Paralegals perform many functions within a law firm. The tasks that they are responsible for allow an organization to function in an orderly manner. Responsibilities will vary depending on the type and size of the law firm there are working for. Most commonly you will find paralegals conducting legal research, organizing documents, interviewing clients, and drafting legal documents.
During the investigative phase of a case, a paralegal would be responsible for gathering information and preparing reports that aid attorneys in deciding how to proceed. Drafting and filing documents that are to be filed in court is also common task they are responsible for.
When a paralegal is attending school, they can choose to specialize in a specific area of law. By specializing in a specific area, they not only improve their chances of employment, but will increase their prospective salary. Areas of specialization can include litigation, corporate law, copyright law, family law, real estate law, criminal law, and just about any other specialized area of law that you can think of.
Having excellent computer skills is of great importance since much of a paralegals work will be done using specific programs designed for the gathering and organization of legal information. Some of the more common responsibilities of a paralegal are:
- Obtaining client details upon initial intake
- Drafting depositions
- Communicating with client on case
- Conducting research pertaining to case or law
- Investigating case’s facts
- Managing files and paperwork pertaining to case
- Summarizing depositions
- Attending relevant court proceedings for case
Paralegal jobs can be found in a variety of places including all types of public and private law firms, legal departments of corporations, and government agencies. Pretty much any place where you will find attorneys employed, you will usually also find paralegals.
Most of the time a paralegal will work in an office on a computer, though trips to the library are common place, as is attending court proceedings, and meeting with clients. Paralegals often are employed full time, though part-time and temporary positions are available as well. Paralegals can expect to work long hours, completing work in a timely manner is of great importance given the nature of the job. Due to the fact that strict deadlines must be met working overtime and on weekends is common.
Paralegals may also work on a freelance, temporary, virtual, or permanent basis. Some law firms have junior paralegals and senior paralegals. Independent paralegals are not employed by a particular law firm, but provide basic legal services, like notarization, to the public.
How To Become A Paralegal – Schools And Certification:
There are numerous paths to becoming a paralegal. Paralegal schools offer two general tracks – one for individuals who have already obtained bachelor’s degrees in other fields and one for individuals who wish to pursue a degree in paralegal studies.
For most people, becoming a paralegal will involve completing an Associates degree in paralegal studies from a community college or accredited university. The majority of paralegals currently working have associates degrees in paralegal studies
Paralegal Degrees give students a grounding in the fundamentals of legal writing, research, and ethics and provide practical, real world experience to students. Course work in database management, computer systems, and writing are often taken as electives. If the individual is interested in particular legal sector, s/he may complete course work in criminal law, immigration, estates and wills, or another specialized field of law.
For individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field and would like to work as a paralegal, they have the option of obtaining a certificate in paralegal studies. Paralegal certification can be obtained by taking a paralegal training course and successfully passing a certification test. Paralegal certification programs, will provide necessary training directly related to the paralegal job. These programs can be as short as a few months. Although paralegal certification is not necessary, becoming certified will increase your chances of finding employment. There are numerous organizations that offer paralegal certification. The prerequisites for taking the test, such as experience and education will vary depending on which organization is giving the test.
Some firms will hire individuals who have a bachelors degrees in an area that the firm may specialize in such as tax code or nursing. Though these individuals will have no prior experience in paralegal studies, they will be given training while on the job. Certain universities also offer Bachelors and Masters degrees in paralegal studies, though this is less common.
Types Of Paralegal Certification:
The paralegal profession offers several professional certifications, depending on the candidate’s level of education. The National Association for Legal Professionals issues three professional certificates to paralegals, which are obtained after a test is successfully completed. While professional certificates are not mandatory, having a professional certificate adds credibility to a resume and makes an applicant more competitive.
The Certified Paralegal Exam or Certified Legal Assistant exam (CLA/CP) may be taken after the individual has obtained an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a Paralegal Studies program that is recognized by the American Bar Association. If the individual has not pursued higher education, then a high school diploma and seven years of professional experience working as a legal assistant for a Bar-certified attorney is required before taking the exam.
The CLA/CP is a rigorous exam comprising five small examinations pertaining to the legal system and a two-day written exam pertaining to legal ethics, research, legal writing, legal analysis, and more.
The Registered Paralegal Exam, or the Paralegal Competency Examination (PACE), provides a more advanced level of certification. Potential applicants must have obtained a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and three years’ of paralegal work. Individuals with only an associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies must have worked six years in the office of a Bar-certified attorney.
PACE comprises a section on laws and codes pertinent to the state in which the exam is taken and a general section on writing, analysis, ethics, and research in the legal field. The difficulty and questions of the PACE exam vary from state to state.
Who Should Become A Paralegal:
There are certain personality traits which are necessary for one to be successful at this profession. Some of the more important traits include being organized, analytical, goal oriented, punctual, and detail-oriented. Paralegals acquire and synthesize large amounts of material for cases so attorneys may pursue the optimal legal strategy for a case. They often have strict deadlines and must complete work under great pressure without sacrificing quality. One must be able to handle this stress in a healthy manner.
Having exceptional people skills is also important. It will be common to interact with clients when they are facing grave personal and professional challenges. Demonstrating compassion and empathy will go far to allay clients’ anxieties while obtaining needed information. Paralegals must be astute and enjoy working for extended periods alone. Legal research and investigation can be tedious. An individual who enjoys analytical problem-solving will enjoy this aspect of paralegal work.
Pursuing a paralegal career can be a dynamic and exciting journey. Paralegal work requires individuals to have and develop exceptional research, writing, and analytical skills.
How Much Does A Paralegal Make?
There are many factors that can affect a paralegal salary. Salary can vary greatly depending on location, education, experience, and the size of the employer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median paralegal salary is $48,350. The lowest 10 percent of reported incomes was averaged at $30,280, while the top 10 percent of earners took home an estimated $77,830. The state with the highest average salary is The District of Columbia with an annual mean salary of $74,930.
Factors That Can Influence Salary:
However, salary varies greatly from state to state and is generally higher in metropolitan centers. In New York, the starting paralegal salary is between $50,000-60,000. If an individual has obtained a bachelor’s degree and an advanced professional certification, s/he can expect a higher salary range. Working at a corporate law firm is also more lucrative than working at smaller firms.
It is best to try and obtain the highest level of education possible as well as the highest level of certification. having an area of specialization can also help with finding employment as well as commanding a greater salary. Location is something that you may not have the option of choosing, but in general heading to larger cities will provide a higher salary. As you work in the field and gain experience you can also expect to receive greater compensation for your work.
The skills obtained while pursuing a career as a paralegal are transferable to other professions. A career as a paralegal provides excellent groundwork for a career as an attorney, a researcher for a policy institute or think tank, and a legal writer. Paralegal work connects individuals to the world of social work, education, finance, government, health care, and more.
The job market for paralegals is expected to increase by 17% between 2012-2022 which slightly higher then the expected average growth of all other careers during the same time frame. This means that there will be healthy growth in this sector and there should be numerous jobs created over the next 10 years. Competition for paralegal jobs is strong attracting many qualified individuals.
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median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*