A Paralegal, often referred to as a legal assistant, is responsible for handling tasks delegated by attorneys. Despite current economic downturn, employment of paralegals is continuing to grow. Have you ever wondered how much a paralegal makes? Look no further. This article gives an insight into the profession; paralegal salary, job description and work environment as well as ways to enter the field.
What is the salary of a Paralegal? In the United States is around $47,500per annum, or $22-$23 per hour. The top 10% of earners are make over $76,000 annually according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) while the lowest 10% make an average of around $30,000.
The top 5 paying states as of May, 2013 were District of Columbia, California, Alaska, New Jersey and Oregon. The 5 highest paying industries for paralegals are software publishing, merchant wholesalers, electronics manufacturers, grant making services and newspaper publishers. Wages increase in line with experience and vary depending on specialization. The most common employer of legal assistants is the legal services industry (17% of total jobs in this sector), whilst the highest paying industry for paralegals is software publishing.
Professionals can opt to become self-employed, increasing their potential earnings. Being self-employed gives greater flexibility for working hours than working for a corporation, and grants greater job autonomy.
Paralegals handle a wide variety of legal tasks. These include scheduling client interviews, managing and organizing case files, conducting research into relevant laws and regulations as well as writing reports. Legal assistants are also draft legal documents such as mortgages and contracts in addition to preparing documents for court cases.
A legal assistant needs a wide variety of skills. Besides extensive knowledge of laws and legal terminology, good organization skills are essential as single cases can contain hundreds of different case files. Paralegals must be able to communicate well with court personnel, clients and supervisors. Additionally, strong reading and writing skills are necessary to write detailed reports, analyze evidence and construct statements to be read in court.
The distinction between an attorney and a paralegal is that while attorneys can provide legal representation in court, give legal advice and set their own fees, the latter cannot. Tasks of a paralegal are assigned by an attorney, which is why they are commonly called legal assistants.
Job responsibilities will vary depending on one’s experience and specialization. As a paralegal gains more experience, they will have greater involvement with court cases and take on more responsibilities.
Paralegals work is centered on conducting research and constructing cases. Most of their time is spent researching on computers, reading over case files and writing reports. However, they can expect to travel to other locations to interview clients or carry out further research. Often, paralegals are required to assist attorneys in court.
Working hours vary depending on employer. Work days are typically a minimum of eight hours, resulting in work weeks frequently over forty. Hours are generally less if one is employed by a government office or a large corporation, whereas being self-employed allows you complete schedule flexibility.
The nature of legal work is demanding. Legal documents and reports are needed to be completed in time for court proceedings, so the job is often high in stress and fast-paced. Overtime is often required for meeting urgent deadlines.
How to become a Paralegal
Becoming a paralegal has traditionally been split into two paths; completion of a legal degree at college or university, or learning on the job.
In terms of education, there are a number of ways to obtain certification. Online certification courses are offered for distance learners. When deciding on a course, ensure it is accredited by the American Bar Association which is an important credential for employers. One can opt for a two year associates degree, which is usually preferred by legal firms over an online course. An associates degree is increasingly seen as a minimum requirement to become a paralegal. Lastly, universities offer four year bachelor degrees in paralegal studies which can lead to higher starting salaries.
Alternatively, one can learn the job as you work. This usually involves working your way up the ladder in a legal firm, starting out as a legal clerk or court reporter for example. It is recommended to take professional certification exams to prove you have the skills necessary for the job, which are offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA). It is also not uncommon for firms to take on college/university graduates with no legal experience and train them on the job.
The paralegal profession is currently experiencing a growth in employment. The BLS predicts the job increase to be around 17% between 2012 and 2022, equating to almost 50,000 new jobs. In times of economic recession and financial uncertainty, paralegals are a more popular choice than attorneys as they can offer far cheaper services. With job market growth, more institutions are offering industry-accredited courses in paralegal studies.
In the age of online music, social media and rapid technological developments, the need for people employed in legal professions will continue to grow as the need for rules and regulations increase. In recent years, legal issues surrounding miss-sold insurance and claiming for work-related injuries have been far more visible to the public, resulting in higher demand for legal assistants’ services.
Legal secretaries are responsible for the organization and management of legal documents, and the job is often an entry level position. Day to day tasks include but are not limited to; dealing with client enquiries, keeping records of costs and fees, as well as preparing statements for court. The average pay (May, 2013) is $45,030.
An attorney is a lawyer that has passed the ABA examinations, and is thus able to represent clients in court. They are expected to gather evidence and build arguments for defending clients or for prosecution. Attorneys also offer advice on legal matters, such as business transactions and liabilities. Becoming an attorney requires taking a bachelor’s degree in university, and subsequently going to law school. One can then remain a general practitioner, or specialize in one of various fields, such as criminal or human rights. The average pay is $114,300.