Lawyers might not have the best reputation, but they do important work for you when you need it the most. However, most of the work done by your attorney is performed by the attorney’s paralegal. A paralegal salary, job description, duties, and education requirements are all available for those who have an interest in working for a law firm without the desire to attend law school. Law school is time-consuming and difficult for many and working as a paralegal is a satisfying career choice for those who like the work but not the entire sense of responsibility.
A paralegal is someone who works alongside an attorney in any aspect of the law. You can choose which legal field you want to work in as a paralegal which gives you the freedom to work in a field you love. From family law to real estate law to criminal law, there is a need for paralegals in every law firm to research, assist, and learn the practice of law.
Job Duties and Responsibilities
A paralegal is to an attorney what a nurse is to a doctor. A paralegal works to collect information, do the behind-the-scenes work, and prepare the facts for the attorney much like a nurse handles the vitals, the patient history, and the research for a doctor. What this means is that a paralegal is an important addition to any law office.
Every law office is different, but the duties of a paralegal in most offices and in most fields of the law include the following.
Paralegals are not permitted to practice law legally. They cannot meet with a client and agree or disagree to take their case. A paralegal is not legally capable of providing legal information or advice to a client, and they may not represent a client in a court of law before a judge.
Becoming a paralegal takes less time than becoming an attorney, and the education requirements are less stringent. A paralegal must have a high school diploma or a GED to work in a law firm. Education requirements are changing, and fewer law firms are hiring paralegals who do not have at least a two-year degree from an accredited university or community college. This degree is an associate’s degree, and it’s required to obtain a job as a paralegal in almost every office across the country. You do not need a formal license or certificate to work as a paralegal and earn a paralegal salary in any state.
In the past, paralegals did not need a formal education. However, the National Federation of Paralegals Association is changing the requirements for the job, and they are asking that law firms refrain from hiring paralegals without a four-year degree. While you do not need a four-year college degree to work as a paralegal, the laws are changing, and it’s recommended you obtain your four-year college degree now.
Your bachelor’s degree program should fall into the paralegal studies or legal studies program. It’s not required, but it’s recommended. Before you being a program, it’s recommended you find out if it is an approved American Bar Association program. There are paralegal degree programs available at most law schools and universities that make it easier for you to get a job, earn a higher paralegal salary, and speed up the process of beginning your career.
If you are working on a degree to become a paralegal, you may be required to go through an internship with a law firm. Even if your degree program doesn’t require this, it’s helpful to intern in an office setting. You learn the ropes; you learn how the legal field works, what’s expected of you, and you gain first-hand knowledge of the job. This looks good on your resume, and it makes law firms more likely to hire you than someone who has never worked in a legal setting. You might even find the law firm for which you intern is willing to offer you a job when you graduate if you do a good job.
As of 2018, the average paralegal salary is $54,271 per year. This number was calculated using the average paralegal salary range of $47,993 to $61,280. If your paralegal salary falls outside of this range, it likely does so because of your education, experience, or location. These figures are averaged across the country, and some paralegals are paid more than others while some are paid below the national average due to cost of living and other factors.
If you work as a paralegal with a two-year college degree, you might earn less than a coworker with a four-year degree in a legal field. The more education you have, the more money you’ll make. If you have a job as a paralegal with a two-year degree, you can discuss finishing your education with your employer to see if they are willing to pay more once you obtain your four-year degree, or even if they are willing to pay for part of your education if they feel it benefits them to do so.
Not every legal office has the same amount of business, the same need, or is located in a city or town with a high annual income per capita. Some law firms are in small towns with a high poverty level. In some instances, paralegal salary packages from attorneys who work as defense attorneys are higher because these law offices are notorious for earning more money.
Paralegals in Washington D.C. make the most money with an average annual salary of $79,000. Paralegal salary packages in Arkansas are among the lowest in the nation with an annual salary of only $39,000. Furthermore, the number of attorneys who work in the office determines the amount of money you earn as a paralegal. Offices with fewer than five attorneys pay an average of $7,000 less per year than firms with more than 46 attorneys, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you base a paralegal salary alongside the average cost of living and the average market home value, it’s most profitable to work as a paralegal in Nevada. The average annual paralegal salary in Nevada is almost $22,000 lower than it is in Washington D.C., but the cost of living is so much less that it works out for paralegals to live a more comfortable lifestyle with their lower income.
The longer you work in this field, the more you make. A paralegal who has worked in the legal industry for fewer than five years earns an average of $24,000 less than those who have been working in the field for more than 25 years. It takes time to earn the most as a paralegal, but experience does help when you are looking to earn a raise and make more money.
Paralegal salary benefits are often taken into consideration alongside the satisfaction they have working in their field. The problem is some paralegals have more job satisfaction than others, and some have much more difficult jobs than others. A paralegal in a prosecution office or a defense office has more stress, more hours, and less satisfaction than someone who works in a real estate office or creating wills. Job satisfaction comes from working in a field you enjoy in a firm you enjoy.
A paralegal salary combined with the education requirements is a bonus. You can work in a career in which you earn more than the national average salary in many households with minimal education. You can advance your career by taking additional courses and obtaining new degrees, and you can take your job anywhere in the country. Job security is promising as a paralegal as the field only continues to grow. There is a great need for paralegals in almost every state, which means you aren’t without options.
Working as a paralegal gives you the option to further your career by gaining new degrees that allow you to go into office management in addition to working as a legal assistant. You also have the option to attend law school while working as a paralegal which is something that provides you with invaluable experience, education, and hands-on training. The average salary of a paralegal is more than the average salary of many professionals who go to school longer and who work in fields that bring them less satisfaction. It's a respectable career with a promising future for anyone willing to put in the work.