Like most other careers, your paralegal salary will vary according to a number of factors. Just like the specifics of the paralegal job description, your paralegal salary will be dependent upon your education, experience, geographic location, and your work environment. Paralegals who work in big cities at well-known firms can obviously expect to make more money than do those who work in the smaller firms found across the country. The type of work environment will also determine the likelihood of overtime pay and other benefits.
How Much do Paralegals Make?
Generally, the more experience a paralegal has, the higher their paralegal salary will be. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for paralegals is $49,960 per year. However, the paralegal salary has one of the largest ranges when compared to other careers. For example, the lowest paid paralegals make around $30,000, while the highest paid ones have a paralegal salary close to $75,000.
Paralegal Salary by Industry
While paralegals are found in a variety of companies, a hand-full of industries employ the majority of all paralegals in America. Studies show that almost three-quarters of all paralegals will end up working at some kind of law office. Though average paralegal salaries vary from industry to industry. Listed below are the top five industries you can expect to find work in after finishing paralegal training (listed from the highest average paralegal salary to the lowest).
|Federal Executive Branch||$64,750|
|Management of Companies and Enterprises||$59,390|
Where you live also plays a large role in determining you income. While the average annual paralegal salary is higher than many occupations, some states offer higher salaries than others with a few states exceeding the national average by up to $20,000 a year!
Paralegal Salary by State
It might come as no surprise but the highest paralegal salary in the country can be found in the Nation’s Capital. With both the highest annual wages and one of the highest concentration of paralegal jobs, Washington DC remains the geographic leader in the paralegal field. Here are the top five highest paying states for paralegals:
|Hourly Wage||Annual Salary|
|State||Lowest 10%||Highest 10%||Lowest 10%||Highest 10%|
Paralegal Salary by City
Expected paralegal salary rates fluctuate within each state depending on demand and population density. Larger metropolitan areas will be able to offer more competitive salaries than smaller rural areas. Interestingly enough, while the state of Michigan doesn’t rank as one of the top paying states, Flint, MI makes an appearing in the chart of the top five highest paying metropolitan areas for paralegals:
|Hourly Wage||Annual Salary|
|City||Lowest 10%||Highest 10%||Lowest 10%||Highest 10%|
|San Francisco, CA||$21.47||$44.97||$44,660||$93,550|
|San Jose, CA||$19.34||$51.67||$40,220||$107,470|
How to Improve Your Paralegal Salary
One of the best ways to increase your paralegal salary is through furthering your education. Whether you’re new to the field or a current professional looking to increase their earning potential, paralegal schools offer both beginner and advanced level courses in paralegal studies. The length of your education will depend on the type of degree you would like to earn. For example, there are both associate and bachelor degrees available for paralegals, with bachelor degree programs taking additional time to complete. Some decide to return to school later and earn a second degree after gaining a few years of work experience.
Another great way to increase your paralegal salary is by obtaining a paralegal certification. Although not a requirement to work as a paralegal, becoming certified may increase your employability, opening up new career paths. A certification is an acknowledgment from an official organization that you are qualified to work as a paralegal. There are currently two organizations that certify paralegals:
- The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAP)
The NALA offers a 2-day certification exam for paralegals who have met certain educational and experiential requirements. Upon passing this exam, paralegals can become known as a Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) or a Certified Paralegal (CP).
The AAP offers the American Alliance Certified Paralegal credential to paralegals who have at least five years of experience and who have fulfilled certain educational requirements. In order to keep their certification, paralegals must renew it every two years and complete a minimum of 18 hours of continuing education.
Figures courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Employment & Wages database.