Paralegals, or legal assistants, work with lawyers. Although the law forbids paralegals from the unauthorized practice of law (giving legal advice without a license), paralegals perform different legal support tasks. Paralegals may summarize legal cases, talk to clients, write letters, or investigate cases. Paralegals work in many different industries, and the salaries and job requirements differ depending on the industry.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2006 the median annual earnings of paralegals was $43,040. The lowest paid 10 percent of paralegals had an average annual salary of $27,450 while the top paid 10 percent earned an average annual salary of $67,540 or more. In addition to their salary, paralegals may earn overtime or bonuses; benefits are also usually offered, such as health insurance, vacation time and the opportunity to invest in a 401K retirement plan.
According to Robert Half Legal, the largest legal staffing service in the United States, in 2005 the average starting salary for a paralegal with seven or more years of experience was $49,500 to $67,000. For less experienced paralegal, (those with between two and three years of experience) starting salaries in 2005 were between $27,500 and $35,500. For a paralegal with no experience, the average starting salary was typically below $27,500 at a smaller firm and slightly higher at larger firms.
Top Paying Geographic Areas
According to data from 2006 published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, D.C., was the highest paying state for paralegals. Employers in Washington paid paralegals an average of $61,660 a year. Paralegals in New York were the second highest paid, at $57,910. In California (the 3rd highest paying state) paralegals earned $56,400. In Alaska, the average was $53,830 and in Illinois $52,330, making Alaska and Illinois the fourth and fifth highest paying states respectively.
Top Paying Industries
Paralegals working for information services companies make the highest annual wage, which was $73,320 in 2006. Those working for software publishing companies averaged $69,950 as of 2006. Those working in manufacturing industries made an average of $66,120 in 2006. This means the highest paying jobs for paralegals are not in law firms. For paralegals in law firms, the average salary as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2006, was considerably lower, with an annual average of $47,380.
Paralegal jobs are expected to grow at a higher rate than the 12 percent average for all job markets. Between 2006 and 2016, paralegal employment opportunities are expected to grow at approximately 22 percent per year. More duties that are currently done by first year associates (recently hired lawyers) are being passed on to paralegals to cut costs. As a result, more paralegals are being hired. Paralegals are also beginning to increasingly work for themselves and offer consulting services.