How Much Do Paralegals Earn?

First and foremost, a disclaimer. The information here is for guidance only. The amount you can earn will depend on many factors, which include your qualifications, where you work, your ability and dedication, and your specialist knowledge.

Salary Proposal

Salary Proposal (Photo credit: rossbreadmore)

That said, in general, paralegals have great salaries when compared to other professions for similarly qualified people. Many individuals enter the legal profession because of the extensive opportunity to grow professionally and increase their income. A paralegal’s salary is contingent on various factors and their work is billed to clients in the same way that you would bill an attorney’s time. Unfortunately, paralegals do not make an attorney’s rate. Their hourly rate is significantly lower and although that rate is lower it isn’t bad at all.

There are numerous factors to take into account when considering how much money a paralegal stands to make. The main factor is the amount of education that the paralegal has. Individuals who have gone to paralegal school can expect to make more than those who are entering the profession with little or no education. If the paralegal has a baccalaureate degree in addition to a paralegal certification, they can expect to increase their salary by thousands of dollars.

An individual with a certificate from paralegal school is going to make more money than someone who is basing their paralegal qualifications off of work-related experience. Being certified is a big plus if a paralegal wants to increase their earning power. The American Bar Association discovered that paralegals who have certification earn thousands of dollars more than those who are not certified. They also have a faster yearly increase of salary due to their certification.

Experience is also a factor when calculating pay. A paralegal who is brand new and entry level can expect a base pay that is a bit less unless there is relevant administrative experience that can help put the paralegal ahead professionally in the law firm. Entry-level employees are paid less than someone who has been working in the field for years.

Below are typical salaries based on years of experience:

  • Less than 1 year of experience – $33,000
  • 1-4 years of experience – $35,000
  • 5-9 years of experience – $43,000
  • 10-19 years of experience – $47,500
  • 20 years or more – $48,500

Another factor that determines the amount of money the paralegal makes is the type of law that the paralegal is working in. For example, a paralegal working for a non-profit law firm may be paid significantly less than someone who is working in a corporate environment.

The top areas of law that yield salaries of over $60,000 per year include Intellectual Property, Tax, Securities, Corporation, and Enterprise. Those who decide to work for a corporate law firm should seek out corporate law firms that specialize in mergers and acquisitions, and international law for the highest-paying salaries. Paralegals who specialize in this area make between $70,000-$80,000 yearly which is a considerably high salary for any occupation.

The lower-paid law firms that pay their paralegals an average of less than $40,000 a year include Family Law, Administrative Law, Personal Injury, Workers’ Compensation, and Probate, Trusts, and Estate Law. Many paralegals don’t enter a particular field of law because of the pay, but rather because of their own personal interest in the law that they are practicing.

Also, geographic location counts. Someone who lives in New York where high salaries are typical is not going to make the same as someone who lives in Mississippi. Cost of living factors will always play a role in salary. Geographic location is a great indication of the amount the paralegal will be paid.

Most paralegal salaries start at a minimum of $25,000, however, regardless of geographic location. The average salary of a paralegal across the board is $45,000.

As the years have progressed the average salary for a paralegal has risen. In 1997 the average paralegal salary was $23,000 but is now $45,000. According to the National Association of Legal Assistants, each year the average paralegal salary increases $1,700 but another study by Legal Assistants Today (now incorporated in Paralegals Today – see their salary survey here) found that the average salary is actually increasing at double that rate.

In addition to a base salary and possible overtime compensation, paralegals also have the potential to earn bonuses based on the discretion of the attorney or firm. Bonuses are often based on the quality and quantity of the work produced by the paralegal. A typical bonus is a few thousand dollars but a large case can yield a very large bonus.

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