North Carolina Paralegal Career and Salary Information

How to Become a Paralegal North Carolina

North Carolina hosts a high density of paralegals and legal assistants, particularly in urban areas across the state. As a result of this high population of legal paraprofessionals, the North Carolina State Bar adopted a paralegal regulation system called the Plan for Paralegal Certification, which was later approved and instated by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2004.1 This certification plan allows paralegals and legal assistants to gain voluntary certification and adopt the title ‘North Carolina Certified Paralegal’. Paralegal certification under this ruling and via the North Carolina State Bar requires some formal paralegal training in the form of an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in paralegal studies, a juris doctorate degree from an accredited law school or a college level degree in another field supplemented by a post-baccalaureate certificate in paralegal studies. This certification procedure is optional for paralegals and legal assistants within the state, however most prospective paralegals and legal assistants chose to pursue formal paralegal education programs and state certification to ensure a competitive status in the job market. Currently, the American Bar Association has formally approved six paralegal degree programs in North Carolina. These programs vary in content, duration and cost, but all meet or exceed the national standard adopted by the American Bar Association. Other paralegal degree programs are offered at various institutions across the state, though these may not be sufficient to fulfill the prerequisites of the North Carolina State Bar certification examination. Prospective paralegals and legal assistants are also encouraged to seek national certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. These organizations offer certification programs similar to the North Carolina State Bar paralegal certification system. The purpose of these certification programs in to ensure a consistent and high degree of competency and professional ability for paralegals and legal assistants nationwide. For more information regarding paralegal education, certification and employment in North Carolina, please refer to the North Carolina State Bar or to one of the North Carolina paralegal associations listed below.

Career Opportunities for Paralegal Graduates

Recently certificated and certified paralegals and legal assistants in North Carolina are likely to find the most employment opportunities at private law firms across the state. Corporations, banks, and government agencies also require a high degree of paralegal support staff and may provide newly qualified paralegals and legal assistants with promising and diverse positions. Typically, large, urban law firms hire the largest number of paralegals and legal assistants, often delegating assistive tasks based on legal area. Paralegals and legal assistants seeking specialization in a particular legal area, and those seeking a larger work environment may chose to pursue positions in larger regional or national firms. Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP is one of the most prominent law firms in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regons and has expanded drastically from its roots in North Carolina. This full service business law firm practices in virtually every legal practice area, offering exceptional service via specialized legal teams. Moore & Van Allen is another large regional firm with offices across the Southeast. The fast growing firm is known for its client-service based legal and administrative staff and positive workplace culture. Both these firms are good starting points for paralegals and legal assistants with some previous experience, those who wish to specialize in a particular legal field, and those interested in joining a large, regional firm. Internal legal departments in national and regional corporations are undergoing a widespread period of expansion, resulting in the creation of more and more positions for paralegals. Large corporations with headquarters in North Carolina include Bank of America Corp, Lowe’s. Nucor, Duke Energy and Goodrich. Positions at corporations such as these provide paralegals and legal assistants with a slightly different work environment and career path than positions at private law firms, and may be interesting for paralegals interested in business law, patent law, and technology law. Government agencies at the local, state and federal level also tend to have positions for paralegals and legal assistants. These positions may be appealing for recently certified or certificated paralegals and legal assistants seeking a broad-based introduction to the field, or those wishing to gain work experience. Overall, many different organizations require paralegal support and prospective candidates should seek positions in a variety of legal settings.

North Carolina Paralegal Jobs and Salary by Metro Area

Metro Area Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill 2,140 $44,560
Durham-Chapel Hill 580 $42,270
Fayetteville 220 $36,790
Jacksonville 130 $35,290

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2012.

Paralegal Job Outlook and Salary in North Carolina

Projected Job Growth

24.5%

Paralegals in North Carolina from 2010-20204

The paralegal and legal assistant occupations is predicted to be one of the fastest growing nationwide in the coming years, largely due to a movement to reduce the cost of providing legal services. Law firms seeking to minimize the expense of providing legal services are expected to refrain from excessive attorney hiring and instead focus on allocating legal tasks to paralegals and legal assistants. This shift is expected to result in a diversification of the responsibilities of paralegals and legal assistants in law offices, as well as the creation of new positions for paralegals and legal assistants. Corporations also wishing to reduce legal expenses are already undergoing expansion of internal legal departments, largely through the hiring of additional paralegal support staff. An increase in corporate positions for paralegals and legal assistants is expected to diversify the job prospects for paralegals and legal assistants, as well as contribute to the overall expansion of the industry. Despite the widespread trend of outsourcing, most existing paralegal and legal assistant positions should be safeguarded due to the hands-on nature of paralegal labor. Concurring with these broad trends, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected 18% employment growth for paralegals and legal assistants nationwide from 2010 to 2020.2 This predicted employment growth is significantly higher than the average projected growth across all occupations and the average projected growth across all legal occupations at 14% and 11%, respectively.2 Numerically, this predicted employment growth suggests that 46,900 new positions for paralegals and legal assistants will be created across the country between 2010 and 2020.2 In May 2012, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an estimated 9,720 paralegals and legal assistants employed throughout North Carolina, earning an average annual wage of $41,740.3 The average annual wage in North Carolina is slightly lower than the national median wage for paralegals at $46,680, though still fairly strong.1 As in other states, large law firms headquartered in urban commercial centers should generally offer the highest wages for paralegal support staff. The high density of already employed paralegals and legal assistants is centered in urban areas such as Raleigh and Charlotte. This concentration of paralegals and legal assistants suggests that North Carolina already hosts a disproportionally large number of positions for paralegals and that this number is likely to expand due to the national trends listed above. Though, the high number of existing paralegals and legal assistants may lead to significant competition, the expansion of the occupation should create a number of new positions allowing newly certified and certificated individuals opportunities for employment. Due to these factors, the job outlook for paralegals and legal assistants in North Carolina is very positive, reflecting the national expansion of the industry and the already high level of employment opportunity for paralegals within the state. Formal education, state certification, national certification and work experience will continue to benefit candidates heavily, especially those seeking employment in private, regional firms.

North Carolina Paralegal Associations

Catawba Valley Paralegal Association
Cumberland County Paralegal Association
Guilford Paralegal Association
Metrolina Paralegal Association
North Carolina Paralegal Association
Raleigh Wake Paralegal Association
Research Triangle Paralegal Association

References:
1. North Carolina Paralegal Certification: http://www.nccertifiedparalegal.gov/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-6
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm
4. North Carolina Department of Commerce: http://www.nccommerce.com/research-publications/industry-economy/workforce-analyses