Employment and Salary Trends

Paralegals serve as support staff for lawyers, and they perform a variety of tasks that contribute to the efficiency of a legal department or organization. Becoming a paralegal is great if you are interested in a career in law, but do not want to go to law school. Luckily, working as a paralegal still allows you to earn a fairly high salary.

Graduating from a paralegal or legal studies education program prepares you to assist attorneys with substantive tasks including interviewing, investigation, research, and legal document drafting and analysis. Paralegals play an important role in our legal system, allowing law practices to be more efficient, competent, and profitable.

Paralegal Salary Stats

Paralegals generally work at law firms, and can also work with insurance agencies, government departments, and a number of other types of businesses. The size of the firm, in terms of client numbers, will influence a paralegal’s salary. Having higher education, like a bachelor’s degree and a certification, will also contribute to your overall salary potential.

Overall, the average salary for a paralegal as of May 2015 was $52,390 annually. The following chart, provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), shows the median annual wages of the most popular industries for paralegals and legal assistants.

BLS Paralegal Common Industries and Wages

Source: BLS, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Ed.

You can certainly earn even more than what is reported in the above chart. In fact, the top 10 percent of paralegals earn an average of $79,010 annually. To become a high-paid paralegal, there are several factors for you to consider like location, experience, type of employer (industry), and specialty. The BLS shows paralegals employed in these industries as having the highest average annual salaries in the nation:

  • Semiconductor and Other Electronic Component Manufacturing: $89,270
  • Software Publishers: $77,150
  • Professional and Commercial Equipment and Supplies Merchant Wholesalers: $73,240
  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing: $72,810
  • Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing: $72,540

Paralegals usually work a full 40-hour work week, and (depending on their employer) can increase their earnings by working overtime.

Paralegal Salary by Location

If you want a top-paying job in the paralegal field, there is one location that outranks all others: Washington, D.C. In the nation’s capital, you can work on high-level federal cases, as well as consultant with federal government departments. On average, paralegals in Washington, D.C. make $77,230 annually. Beyond D.C., the top-paid paralegals, on average, were found in the following states:

  • Alaska: $66,740
  • California: $59,230
  • New York: $57,920
  • Washington: $57,230

On average, these cities offer the highest annual salaries to paralegals:

  • San Francisco-Redwood City-South, CA: $72,310
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: $69,560
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $69,490
  • Anchorage, AK: $69,190
  • San Rafael, CA: $68,630

Larger cities generally offer higher salaries than areas with a smaller population, but that does not mean that you are bound to the city in order to pursue your career. If city life is not for you, then you can consider working in any of these top-paying (on average) nonmetropolitan areas:

  • Southeast Alaska nonmetropolitan area: $64,750
  • Balance of Lower Peninsula of Michigan nonmetropolitan area: $60,540
  • Central New Hampshire nonmetropolitan area: $58,080
  • Eastern and Southern Colorado nonmetropolitan area: $56,460
  • Southwest Wyoming nonmetropolitan area: $54,630

The map below provides a helpful visual of the annual mean wage of paralegals and legal assistants by state, according to the BLS:

Job security is rarely an issue for paralegals because they are needed all over the country in a variety of work environments.

How to Earn More as a Paralegal

Paralegals are prepared to do whatever work is needed to defend or prosecute in court, and having experience in one area of law can help you make more money. Educational programs at the bachelors and master’s level can allow you to specialize in a particular area of law like commercial real estate, adoption, banking, and estate planning, to name a few.

It is important to have a fundamental understanding of the law and common legal practices. However, pursuing additional education in a legal specialization can also increase your salary potential. If you are already employed as a paralegal, you can enroll in a graduate-level program like a master of science in paralegal studies. A master’s program often takes about two years to complete and prepares you to work as an expert in the field.

You can also earn a paralegal graduate certificate. Certificate programs take less time than a master’s degree program and allow students to take a few course to further their training and education as a paralegal. Obtaining a graduate degree and/or certificate can qualify you to work in a managerial position and also increase your pay.

There are a variety of educational paths that you can pursue to become a paralegal that can contribute to how much you make in your lifetime. Paralegals have a plethora of employment options to choose from, and can work anywhere in the country. Feel free to explore the rest of our website to learn more about paralegals and what it takes to become one.

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