For anyone interested in a career in legal services, one of the first things they’ll typically ask is “what can I expect to earn in paralegal salary?” Per the last official report issued by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for paralegals was $46,990 in 2012.
While this figures is below the median wage paid to all legal professionals, it is considerably higher than the national average for other occupations. Not only that, but the demand for new paralegals is expected to significantly outpace the mean for all jobs with a robust 17% growth in new legal assistant positions through the end of the decade.
Guide to Paralegal Salary in 2015
Whether you’re wondering how much you’ll make as a paralegal, or how you can maximize your earnings and get paid the highest wage possible in your area, this guide to paralegal salary will provide the answers.
Before we dive into the specifics, it should first be noted that there are multiple different factors that go into determining how much one individual will be paid in comparison to another. This post examines four of the primary ones, but there will be others that may come into play on a case-by-case basis as well.
Things that Determine Paralegal Pay
Below are the four main factors that influence paralegal salary. To learn more about any of them, simply click on the appropriate tab.
Perhaps more than any other individual factor, the type of employer a paralegal works for has a tremendous impact on the salary he or she earns. According to www.bls.gov, the Legal Services field was the largest single employer of legal assistants in the U.S. as of May 2014, while those employed in the Federal Executive Branch of government earned the highest salaries.
The table below breaks down salary by the five most-common employer types.
|Paralegal Salary by Employer Type|
|Employer Type||Paralegals Employed||Annual Mean Salary|
|Federal Executive Branch||12,970||$67,290|
Area of Specialization
Just as is the case with other legal professionals, the area of specialization in which a paralegal works can have a tremendous impact on salary. Generally speaking, legal assistants whose area of specialization calls for them to utilize their Legal Compliance skills are paid more than their peers, while those whose work is more focused on client interviews (e.g. immigration paralegals) earn less.
Some of the most-common areas of specialization for paralegals are listed below. Note, however, that the order shown does not correspond to median salaries earned.
- ABA Paralegal
- Bankruptcy Paralegal
- Corporate Paralegal
- Family Law Paralegal
- Immigration Paralegal
- Litigation Paralegal
- Real Estate Paralegal
As you’re likely to find with most professions, the state you live in and whether or not you work in a major city or a rural area also figures heavily into how much you’ll likely be paid as a paralegal. As a matter of fact, in the case of legal assistants, geographic location to equate to a difference in pay of more than $20,000 annually for the same position!
In general, paralegals who are employed on the West Coast and Northeast are usually paid significantly more than their counterparts in the middle of the country. There are some exceptions, however, as is illustrated by the table below.
Numbers shown are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on paralegal salary from May 2014.
|Highest Paralegal Salary by States|
|State||Annual Mean Salary|
|District of Columbia||$74,930|
Of course, the last major factor that affects legal assistant wages is one that affects virtually every occupation in the workforce – experience. While this is as true of the legal service field as it is of any other, this statement does come with caveats.
The table below shows typical growth one can expect with regards to paralegal salary over the course of a career. It should be noted that these numbers only reflect growth in the same position and, obviously, don’t factor in how things like acquiring additional training, etc. can influence pay.
|Paralegal Salary by Experience|
|Years Experience||Annual Mean Salary|
|7 Years or More||$53,037|
Maximizing Your Paralegal Salary
While the factors outlined above certainly go a long way towards determining how much you’ll be paid as a paralegal, you can only influence some of them. Nonetheless, there are three different things you can do that will greatly improve your chances of maximizing your salary:
- Complete at least an associate’s degree through an accredited paralegal school
- Acquire specialized training ins a specific area of legal expertise
- Gain experience in as many different fields as possible
There is a strong correlation between education and specialized training and the pay that an employer is willing to offer, so be sure to take advantage of this as much as possible. Not only will it help ensure that you secure the highest paralegal salary possible, but it will also ensure that you work in a field that interests you.