Paralegal Job Overview
Learn everything you need to know about becoming a paralegal professional.
Get details on average salary, pay scale, as well as best jobs near me for those looking for a paralegal job.
Table of Contents
Watch: What is a Paralegal?
What does Paralegals Do?
Job Duties & Responsibilities of a Paralegal
Best 8 Paralegal Online Programs/School
How Much Money Do a Paralegal Make?
Average Pay & Salary of a Paralegal
According to US News, Paralegals made a median salary of $50,940 in 2018.
The best-paid 25 percent made $65,080 that year, while the lowest-paid 25 percent made $38,860.
Top 5 Best Highest Paying Cities For Paralegals
Top 10 States Where Paralegals Are Paid The Least
- Arkansas average salary: $42,050
- Kansas average salary: $43,790
- Mississippi average salary: $44,300
- Montana average salary: $44,330
- South Carolina average salary: $45,480
- Alabama average salary: $45,530
- North Dakota average salary: $45,870
- West Virginia average salary: $46,080
- Kentucky average salary: $46,130
- Idaho average salary: $46,510
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How to Become a Paralegal Professional
What is a paralegal?
A paralegal, also known as a legal assistant, supports attorneys and lawyers in corporate offices, public law offices, and private practices. By working behind the scenes, helping prepare statements and arguments for closings, hearings, trials, or corporate hearings, paralegals form an essential part of every legal team.
In busy law offices, a lawyer may ask a paralegal to conduct research, analyze data, write memos or motions, and present findings. More experienced paralegals, especially those with greater experience and training, may be hired to help draft contracts, mortgages, tax returns, separation agreements, and estate agreements.
Because a paralegal is not a licensed attorney, he or she cannot charge legal fees, present cases in court, or provide legal advice. Instead, paralegals often perform clerical, secretarial tasks by organizing files and other documents, maintaining schedules, and keeping financial records.
Many paralegals are preparing for careers as attorneys, and some firms will offer financial assistance to paralegals that are pursuing law degrees, and paralegals can also benefit from their position by gaining important connections that will help them find later employment.
Because paralegals have become more trusted and more in demand, some paralegals are choosing to specialize in a specific type of law, such as criminal law, corporate law, litigation, personal injury, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.
Working as a paralegal can be a profitable career with benefits that may help individuals reach their future goals. In consideration of this career, a potential paralegal should ask him or herself questions such as:
- Am I interested in the criminal justice system?
- Is it my goal to attend law school and become a licensed, practicing attorney?
- Can I work to deadlines, juggling a number of different tasks?
- Am I comfortable working carefully with computers and managing electronic files?
- Am I willing to become familiar with legal terminology and legal documents?
- Am I comfortable following the orders of others, and working for several bosses?
How do I become a paralegal?
In some cases, if an applicant has certain connections, he or she may be hired for a paralegal position with only a high school diploma. In that case, a paralegal can be trained on the job, which generally means that they will only have a working knowledge of the legal system as it applies to their work.
However, the majority of applicants have at least an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, criminal justice, or communications. There are 260 paralegal programs in the United States that are approved by the American Bar Association, making it convenient for individuals to gain the proper credentials.
It is essential for paralegals to have excellent writing skills and research abilities, as well as the ability to communicate well in groups. Paralegals who are proficient in Spanish or other common languages spoken in the United States can also make themselves stand out in a large pool of applicants.
What can I expect in a career as a paralegal?
Law offices are becoming more and more reliant on paralegals to perform legal tasks because the criminal justice system is growing so quickly. Also, some law offices have found that the more work paralegals can take on, the fewer lawyers and attorneys an employer must hire.
Paralegals earn a lower salary than a licensed lawyer, which can save employers thousands of dollars. Consequently, openings for paralegals are expected to grow by 28% by 2018, but because of their growing popularity, job competition is expected to be considerable. Paralegals earn an average annual salary of $46,120, but those employed by the Federal Government and large corporations can command the highest salaries, upwards of $55,000 per year.
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Paralegal Job Outlook
According to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the paralegal field is expected to grow by approximately 28% in the next five years. This is mainly because a number of paralegals are expected to soon reach the retirement age, but also because online schools have made it much easier for people to enter the field. Also, more industries are looking to hire paralegals because they are able to provide many of the same services as attorneys.
While more businesses will be looking to hire paralegals in place of attorneys, there is a limit as to how much money that a paralegal can make as well as the duties that they are legally able to take on. For example, paralegals can take notes during depositions and assist attorneys while in the courtroom, however, they are not able to express their thoughts or opinions to clients during legal proceedings. For the most part, paralegals duties are restricted to filing, faxing, drafting letters and making requests for legal documentation. The industries that are expected to hire more paralegals in the coming years include; financial institutions, government agencies, small businesses, franchises and non profit agencies.
Although some paralegals can earn more than $75,000 per year, only about 10% in the industry are able to make it to that threshold. Similarly, less than 10% make less than $26,000 a year. Many paralegals enter the field because they are interested in the criminal justice field, but they are not yet able to completely law school and pass the bar examination. While more than 70% of all paralegals are employed at a law firm, studies show that there may be a mass exodus as outsourcing becomes more popular with law firms and other industries begin to create new jobs for well trained paralegals.
The cities that are expected to hire more an increased number of paralegals are those that have the highest projected growth in population. Consequently, cities that high numbers of foreign immigrants such as New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas and Boston will also attract more paralegals. The popularity of online paralegal training programs is also expected to grow exponentially as people in other industries begin to think about switching careers. Because most paralegals are generously compensated, few are compelled to continue to work after they are eligible to retire. Recent graduates will more easily be able to find a paralegal job than virtually any other career because of the field’s projected growth.
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Paralegal Pay Scale
According to US News, Paralegals made a median salary of $50,940 in 2018. The best-paid 25 percent made $65,080 that year, while the lowest-paid 25 percent made $38,860. Like other professions in the legal field, the salaries of paralegals can vary greatly.
In small, rural areas employers are more likely to hire a recent high school or college graduate that is proficient in English but with no practical experience than a major law firm. These newly hired paralegals can expect to make a solid, but not great starting salary. It should be noted, however, that paralegals without a degree will find it difficult to substantially raise their pay if they do not seek further education.
By contrast, paralegals that live in major cities with advanced degrees can make as much as $100,000 a year, not including bonuses, benefits and other perks. Most paralegals aspire to work for a well known law firm because it offers both job stability and prestige. Within a single law firm, there can be literally dozens of paralegals employed at the same time who all offer different areas of expertise. Entry level paralegals may be relegated to duties barely above the scope of an untrained receptionist, but paralegals with decades of experience might be responsible for operating the entire office.
Law students frequently take on internships at law firms for a few semesters where they will learn about the day to day operations. These law students may work directly under experienced paralegals or they may also work side by side with entry level paralegals. Some of these internships are unpaid, but many law students are able to segue into a paralegal career at the same companies that gave them their start.
The average paralegal per U.S. News makes a base salary of approximately $50,940 a year. Depending on whether they are compensated based on performance, tenure or education, paralegals can make as much as an additional $25,000 a year on top of their regular paychecks.
Aside from law firms, paralegals can also make generous salaries working at banks, insurance companies at private institutions and for the government. A paralegal that is able to stay employed consistently by the same company for a number of years will have a much better chance of commanding a high salary.
Each region will be different, but the one factor that employers look for that stays consistent is skill set. Although more experienced paralegals are able to complete complicated tasks with ease, new hires who have attended prestigious schools are often more knowledgeable about new software, laws and legal standards. Many paralegals that have plateaued in their fields often go on to become teachers, legal advisors or even go back to school to become licensed lawyers in their respective states.
Top Online Paralegal Degree Schools Review
Obtaining an Online Paralegal Degree is becoming a popular choice for individuals that would like to continue working while attaining their degree. By clicking the “Click Here” buttons below, you will find reviews of the top online schools as well as free information on enrollment and financial aid information from the schools you are interested in:
AS in Paralegal Studies South University – South University offers one of the best online paralegal degree programs, that is nationally known for its affordability and its ability to give students the knowledge and skills they need to be competitive in the workforce.
Everest University Online – Everest University Online offers two affordable and flexible degree choices that are perfect for students wanting their online paralegal degree. Everest gives students the ability to get their degree entirely online without having to step into a classroom.
AS in Paralegal Studies Penn Foster College – Penn Foster College has one of the top fully accredited online paralegal degree programs that provides students with the knowledge they need to have a successful career as a paralegal. Penn’s programs are designed to be affordable and to allow students to be able to continue working while getting their degree.
AA in Paralegal Studies Keiser University – For individuals looking for an online paralegal degree, Keiser University has the affordable and flexible option for you. Keiser’s online paralegal degree program was designed while keeping in mind the working student and they allow students to complete their degrees completely online.
AS in Paralegal Studies Virginia College – As one of the nation’s top online schools, Virginia College offers a fully accredited online paralegal degree that is specifically designed to be flexible for individuals that want to further their careers by getting their degree at a price they can afford.
AS in Paralegal Studies Colorado Technical University Online – Colorado Technical University Online is known as one of the nation’s top online schools for students looking for an online paralegal degree. Their online paralegal degree program is designed specifically for students that want an affordable option that will take their career to the next level.
AAS in Paralegal Studies Rasmussen College – Rasmussen College has one of the top online paralegal degree programs that provides students with the knowledge from a fully accredited school that they need to have a successful career as a paralegal. The programs from Rasmussen are designed to be affordable and to allow students to be able to not have to stop working while they are getting their degree.
AS in Paralegal Studies Hodges University – Hodges University offers one of the top online paralegal degree programs that is affordable and flexible by allowing students to get their degrees completely online. These programs are designed to be as efficient as possible and are from a fully accredited university.
AS in Paralegal Studies Bryant and Stratton College – Bryant and Stratton College offers one of the most well thought of online paralegal degree programs in the country due to its affordability as well as its ability to give students the knowledge and skills they need to be competitive in the workforce.