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California Paralegal Career Guide

This guide to paralegal careers in California helps those who are interested in the legal field get a start by providing paralegal salary information and career resources. Use the easy to navigate directory below to quickly find the answers to your questions about how to become a paralegal in California.

Table of Contents:
Paralegal Careers
Job Outlook In California
Salary Outlook
Salary by Metro Area
Paralegal Certification
Certification in California
Career Quick Start Tips – How to Become a Paralegal in California
Additional Paralegal Resources
California Paralegal Career Books
Paralegal Job Search Websites
California State Court Info
Law Libraries in California
Paralegal Associations in California

Paralegal Careers

Entry level paralegal careers in California usually require a minimum of an associate’s degree in paralegal studies. However, those holding a bachelor’s degree may be able to start at a higher position within the firm, if a position is available. Salaries for these jobs typically vary depending on experience, firm size, and location. Prospective paralegals may seek out career opportunities from top law firms in California including Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and Morrison & Foerster LLP, all of who sustain a notable demand for paralegal services. In 2012, Latham & Watkins LLP was recognized as one of Yale Law Women’s “Top Ten Family Friendly Firms” for its emphasis on family-friendly policies and practices including part-time and flex-time options, family care programs, leadership and promotion and was also ranked #1 Most Innovative Law Firm by the Financial Times, reflecting its positive work environment and business practices. Corporate legal departments are quite diverse and vary in their demand for paralegal services but offer a solid alternative to the environment of a private law firm. Additionally, government bodies such as the City Attorney’s office and Public Defender’s office may have paralegal positions available across the state.

Job Outlook In California

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 17% national employment growth and the creation of 46,900 new opportunities for paralegals and legal assistants nationwide from 2012-2022.1 This national projected growth is slightly above the average projection for all occupations and is expected to be mirrored within California, where 30,060 paralegals and legal assistants were employed as of 2014.2 The overall expansion of the profession and its established presence in California are favorable conditions for the creation of future positions throughout the state. In addition to the many law firms within the state, the strong corporate presence in major cities is expected to sustain a sizable demand for paralegals in California as companies diversify their legal departments.

California Paralegal Salary Outlook

Salary scaleThe median annual salary for a paralegal in California is $60,940.3 Prospective paralegals should note that wages can differ from firm to firm and change further based on your level of experience and the geographic area in which you are employed. For example, companies in an area such as San Francisco, where many corporations are based and the average cost of living is comparatively high, may offer higher average starting salaries than are the norm in less populous cities. Another factor that you must consider when looking at a paralegal salary in California is the type of job you accept. While a majority of paralegals work directly for law firms, many also work for government organizations or private business entities.

The best paralegal jobs in California, ultimately, are the ones in which you go to work in a setting that interests you! The law is very broad and there are many different types of practices. Fine tuning your skills in a specific area of law will place you higher in demand in the job market and increase your potential salary. Focusing on an area about which you are passionate will also help you stay interested in your work.

California Paralegal Salary Info By Metro Area

A look at the paralegal salaries in the major metro areas of California:

Metro Area Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Bakersfield-Delano 310 $47,300
Chico 60 $43,000
El Centro 60 $41,170
Fresno 610 $46,080
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana 11,860 $61,910
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura 580 $56,630
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario 1,930 $53,160
Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville 1,180 $58,300
Salinas 190 $56,030
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos 3,290 $53,240
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont 4,770 $67,460
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara 2,610 $65,440
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles 130 $55,020
Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta 230 $58,670
Santa Rosa-Petaluma 220 $51,600
Stockton 100 $59,020
Vallejo-Fairfield 70 $52,910
Visalia-Porterville 120 $46,780
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale 8,200 $64,840
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward 1,630 $61,200
San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City 3,140 $70,700
Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine 3,660 $55,360

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.

Paralegal Certification

Certified Professional
Historically, paralegals have suffered from an identity crisis as a profession. Most definitions lump paralegals together with legal assistants and legal secretaries, and the majority of states do not have regulations establishing education or training standards for paralegals. The American Bar Association definition of paralegal does not help resolve the confusion, as it includes legal assistants in its definition of paralegals.

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), a paralegal or legal assistant is someone who has acquired knowledge of legal concepts and practical skills through education, training or work experience to be employed by or under contract in a law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity performing substantive legal work delegated by a lawyer. Unfortunately, this definition could be considered too broad, as it includes legal secretaries and document preparers along with paralegals.

California Certification

If you work as a paralegal in California, you must possess one of four paralegal certification requirements:

  • Hold a certificate from an ABA approved paralegal program
  • Hold a certificate or degree requiring at least 24 semester units in legal courses from a regionally accredited postsecondary institution or one that is approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education
  • A bachelor’s or higher degree in any subject and at least one year of training with an attorney who is a member in good standing of the State Bar of California for at least three years. Supervision by an attorney who practiced in the federal court system in California for three years would also satisfy this requirement. The attorney must certify to the competency of the paralegal
  • A person with a high school diploma or its equivalent who worked for three years under the supervision of an attorney practicing in the state courts or federal courts in California for three years can qualify as a paralegal in the state as long as the attorney certifies in writing as to the competency of the paralegal, and the three years of training must have been completed before December 31, 2003.

Lastly, to retain certification in California, you must complete four hours of continuing legal education in ethics and four hours in either general law or in a specialized field of law. You must complete the CLE requirements every two years. State law requires you to certify to the attorney who supervises you that you have completed the CLE requirements. For more information on becoming a paralegal, including national certification options, check out Paralegal 411’s guide How to Become a Paralegal.

Career Quick Start Tips – How to Become a Paralegal in California

Chart and Training
Getting a job as a paralegal in California can be the start of a well-paying career in the fast-paced legal field. Paralegals currently perform many of the tasks that lawyers traditionally performed, such as interviewing and communicating with clients, drafting documents, and doing legal research. The attributes you must have to become a paralegal — attention to detail, good oral and written communication skills, creativity, and persistence — are the same ones you will use to get your first paralegal job. It’s a good idea to review paralegal openings in your area to get a feel for what employers are looking for. Here are some great tips to help you become a paralegal sooner:

Combining an Education and Networking — Preparation for a career as a paralegal should start with enrollment in a two- or four-year paralegal program in a local college. Even if you have your sights set on criminal defense work, enroll in as many elective courses in the various areas of law as possible. If a job in a criminal defense firm is not available, knowing something about wills and estates might help you land that first job.

Take Advantage of Your School’s Internship Program — An internship in a law office, a corporate legal department, or in a government agency could offer networking opportunities leading to a job after graduation. Networking is also a good reason to become an active member of state and local paralegal associations. You should take an active role in association meetings and functions to showcase your communication and leadership skills to paralegals that might be in a position recommend you for a position where they work.

The Value of Certification — As soon as you are eligible to do so, apply to take the paralegal certification examination offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants. A NALA certification proves that you possess the knowledge and skills employers expect in a paralegal. Certification is a voluntary process that demonstrates your commitment to your profession to prospective employers.

Getting Your Foot in the Door — If you lack experience in the legal field, do not be discouraged. A part-time job while you are in school as a file clerk or secretary in a law firm, government agency, or other employer in the legal field could lead to a paralegal position when you graduate.

Paralegal Resources

The paralegal profession is exciting and enriching. Your position is crucial to the success of your firm, and can make an impact in many lives and legal contexts. To be a successful paralegal, you must have access to the right type of information at the right time. This is what will set you apart from others in your profession.

California Paralegal Career Books

Reading a resource book
The California Paralegal – Paralegals who intend to work in the State of California will find this manual one of the most helpful tools of their profession. The author, William P. Statsky, has addressed every aspect of this profession, from finding a job to working for the court system. Included in the book is an extensive legal dictionary.

California Style Manual – Every paralegal should own a copy of this book if they are working in California. This book explains how the California Supreme Court expects legal citations to be used in all California legal documents. Additionally, it explains how to properly cite information taken from the Internet or other digital methods.

Using The California Style Manual and The Blue Book: A Practitioners Guide – Written by Susan Heinrich, this guide helps paralegals determine the right form of citation for the cases they are working on. Federal cases require Harvard style citations while all state cases require the California style method.

California Manual: Civil Procedure – Written by Superior Court Judge Elizabeth White, a former paralegal, this book should be mandatory reading for anyone who wishes to enter this profession. This text covers important topics not often reviewed such as client intake, understanding venues and jurisdictions, pleading paperwork and other crucial office-related information.

Fundamentals of California Litigation For Paralegals – Authored by Marlene A. Maerowitz and Thomas A. Mauet, this book provides insight into the entire litigation process from the paralegal’s perspective. Covering everything from when the client first walks in the office to post-judgment filings, this book also has additional resources to find comprehensive information for more difficult cases.

California Family Law For Paralegals – Written by Marshall W. Waller this book is a must-read for any paralegal working in the area of family law. This book looks specifically at California Family Code and integrates both laws and legal interpretations into each scenario. This book gives paralegals a true perspective of this area of law.

The California Probate Paralegal – Composed by Dianna L. Noyes, this book offers practicing and new paralegals a complete look at probate law. Paralegals who work in probate must also be knowledgeable about estate planning and estate administration.

Ethics and Professional Responsibility for Paralegals – Written by Therese A. Cannon, this book is a must-read for all paralegals. Covering ethical guidelines specifically geared for paralegals, this book helps ensure that you never break the law while performing your job duties.

Paralegal Job Search Websites for California

You can find paralegal openings with government agencies across California at Ca.gov. Be sure to check out the Paralegal411 jobs board to find additional paralegal job openings in the private and public sectors.

California State Court Info

AppellateCases.CourtInfo.ca.gov – This site is perfect for research of current and past appellate level cases. You can use the search features to select district, type of case, or dates. Other relevant information is also included on this site regarding filing cases in this court.

LegInfo.ca.gov – Civil Law –  You can search this site to find out relevant information about all civil law in the State of California. You should bookmark this site to use for quick reference.

LegInfo.ca.gov – Const Law – Site provides you search options to find information that is contained within the California State Constitution.

CalBar.ca.gov – The California State Bar site is filled with current and relevant information regarding the legal profession in California. Great site to use to keep informed on current events.

Courts.ca.gov – Every paralegal needs access to this site. It contains all the relevant information and current legal forms necessary to use in the court system. Additional information about court procedures and any new changes is also available on this site.

Law Libraries In California

PublicLawLibrary.org  – Public law libraries can be found throughout the state. These libraries provide some online access as well as many law books for research at their physical locations. The law library also offers workshops so that paralegals can improve their research skills.

Paralegal Associations in California

CAPARALegal.org – The California Alliance of Paralegal Associations is a statewide alliance of paralegals and affiliated associations. The goal of the association is to promote advancement of the paralegal profession through networking and the sharing of resources of member organizations.

CCPASLO.com – The Central Coast Paralegal Association provides resources to support educational and networking opportunities for San Luis Obispo County paralegals. Members have access to events and useful links to online resources through the association’s website. Annual dues for student members are $35, associate members $45, voting members $50 and sustaining members $100.

CLA-CAS.org – The Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization provides paralegals and legal assistants with information on obtaining advanced specialized certifications geared toward the legal profession. The goal of this organization is to improve the quality of advanced credentials for the legal community through its educational programs.

FCCSPA.org – The Fresno City College Student Paralegal Association provides enhanced learning opportunities and networking opportunities for students in the Fresno City College paralegal program. These experiences help better prepare students for entry into the paralegal profession. Membership is $10 per student.

FresnoParalegal.org – The Fresno Paralegal Association serves as a means to promote the paralegal profession through providing professional and continuing educational activities for paralegals. Members have access to the association’s online job bank and informative resource links. Fees for membership to FPA start at $5 for students, $40 for associate members, $45 for regular members and $100 for sustaining members.

ICAPOnline.org – The Inland Counties Association of Paralegals provides educational resources and opportunities for personal growth for those in the paralegal profession. Students who are pursuing a career as a paralegal are encouraged to apply for membership. Members have access to the association website’s community forum, job board and links to helpful resources. Fees for membership are $45 for students and $65 for regular, associate or sustaining members.

KCPAOnline.org – The Kern County Paralegal Association provides networking and continuing education opportunities for legal assistants and paralegals. Members have access to the association’s online job bank for available job listings in addition to discounts to educational resources. Membership classifications include student $25, regular $65, associate $30 and sustaining member $125.

LAPA.org – The Los Angeles Paralegal Association works to strengthen and advance the paralegal profession. Members have access to LAPA’s online career center that allows job seekers to search current job opportunities, post their resumes and sign up for job alerts. This organization offers opportunities for educational programs and pro bono activities. Fees for membership are $62 for students, $77 for voting or associate members, and $202 for benefactor members.

OCParalegal.org – The Orange County Paralegal Association, located in Southern California, is committed to maintaining a high level of professionalism for those in the paralegal field. This is accomplished by providing access to resources such as educational events and access to their website’s job bank. Additional resources include application information for educational scholarships for paralegal students, unemployed and working paralegals in Orange County. Memberships start at $40 for students, $60 for associate and voting members, and $125 for sustaining members.

RedwoodParalegals.org – Established in 1981, the Redwood Empire Association of Paralegals provides members with access to educational events and the REAP newsletter on a monthly basis. The organization’s website provides links for references pertaining to the law profession. Dues for members are as follows: Voting Member $42, Student $20, Associate $30 and Sustained $50.

SVPA.org – Members of the Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association have access to helpful professional and educational resources. These resources include scholarships, information pertaining to state laws regarding the paralegal profession, educational programs and a job bank. Information regarding monthly Continuing Legal Education luncheons and other events are listed on their website. Regular membership costs $75, associate $70, student $35 and sustaining $130.

SDParalegals.org – The San Diego Paralegal Association works to improve the paralegal profession through educational activities and increased awareness of this profession. Members of the association are encouraged to actively participate in self-improvement and in activities that benefit their community. Job and volunteer opportunities can be found on the San Diego Paralegal Association’s website. Membership fees include $30 for students, $70 for associate members, $75 for voting members and $225 for sustaining members.

SFPA.com – The San Francisco Paralegal Association provides access to educational opportunities and upcoming association events. Resources are available to members regarding paralegal requirements and available certificate programs throughout the San Francisco area. Membership includes access to information about career and pro bono opportunities. Membership levels include student $50, associate $85, voting $85 and sustaining $300.

SBParalegals.org – The Santa Barbara Paralegal Association works to promote the paralegal profession through an exchange of information and ideas throughout its membership. Members have access to educational resources and events to improve their skills and career opportunities. Membership fees levels include $45 for students, $65 for active and associate members, and $125 for sustaining members.

VCParalegal.org – The Ventura County Paralegal Association promotes professionalism with their Code of Ethics, in addition to access to information and educational opportunities for its members. Scholarships are available for students and existing paralegals who wish to achieve advanced certification. Fees for membership include $30 for students, $40 for active and associate members, and $125 for sustaining members.

References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2014 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-6
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics California Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm
4. The American Bar Association: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/resources/current_aba_definition_of_legal_assistant_paralegal.html