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California Paralegal Career and Salary Guide

This guide is your starting point for exploring a career in the paralegal field in California. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), California is the only state that currently regulates the profession of paralegals directly, by requiring those using the title of “paralegal” and “legal assistant” to meet certain educational and work experience requirements.1 On this page, you’ll find further details about how to become a paralegal in California, certification requirements, career and salary outlook, and professional resources. The easy-to-use directory below will help you find the answers to your questions about becoming a paralegal in California.

Table of Contents
How to Become a Paralegal in California
Paralegal Certification
Paralegal Career and Salary Outlook
Paralegal Resources

How to Become a Paralegal in California

The state of California requires paralegals to meet one of the following education and experience combinations in California:

  • Hold a certificate of completion from an ABA-approved paralegal program.
  • Hold a certificate of completion from a postsecondary institution that has either been accredited by a national or regional accrediting agency or approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education (BPPVE), which requires at least 24 semester hours in legal courses.
  • Hold a baccalaureate or an advanced degree in any subject with at least one year of law-related training under the supervision of an attorney who has been practicing for at least three years and can vouch for the candidate.
  • Hold a high school diploma or its equivalent with at least three years of law-related experience under the supervision of an attorney who has been practicing for at least three years and can vouch for the candidate.

1. Earn a degree or certificate in paralegal studies.

The first step for most prospective paralegals in California is to seek a certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree from one of the state’s numerous paralegal schools. With an ABA-approved paralegal certificate of completion, paralegals can begin working in the state without any additional experience. A certificate of completion at a non-ABA-approved school will suffice as long as it requires at least 24 semester credits of legal coursework or has approval by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education (BPPVE). There are currently 33 ABA-approved programs in California.1

2. Gain experience.

Most paralegals in California who attend paralegal programs will receive some real-world experience through internships offered as part of the program. For prospective paralegals with a bachelor’s degree in a subject besides paralegal studies, one year of law-related experience must be obtained for certification. With at least three years of law-related experience under an attorney’s supervision, California applicants can become certified without a degree (only a high school diploma or equivalent).

3. Seek certification, if desired.

California regulates the paralegal profession but does not require certification to work in the field. However, it does offer voluntary state certification in addition to national options. Voluntary certification shows a commitment to excellence while also expanding networking and potential job opportunities. Read more about California certification below.

Once the above qualifications have been met, practicing California paralegals must complete Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) every two years. At least four hours in legal ethics and four hours in either general law or a specialized area of law must be completed every two years. The MCLE hours must be certified by the paralegal’s supervising attorney and a record of certifications must be kept by the paralegal.

Paralegal Certification in California

The state of California defines a paralegal as a person who is “qualified by education, training, or work experience, who either contracts with or is employed by ​​an attorney, law firm, corporation, governmental agency, or other entity, and who performs substantial legal work under the direction and supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California.”

Paralegals are encouraged to seek both state and national voluntary certification in order to enhance their credentials, improving their chances of getting hired and/or moving up in their careers. National organizations such as the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA, the Paralegal Association); the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA); and the American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI) offer voluntary certifications that demonstrate to potential employers that paralegals have met a professional standard of excellence. For more information on how to become a paralegal, see our guide How to Become a Paralegal.

California Certified Paralegal

In addition to the national certifications listed above, the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPA) offers an optional exam to paralegals leading to certification as a California Certified Paralegal (CCP). California paralegals can also become certified if they have completed the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation by NFPA. The certification, though voluntary, can expand hiring opportunities and make paralegals more competitive in their job search. To be eligible to take the CCP Exam, paralegals must be compliant with California regulations (including MCLE compliance) and meet one of the following requirements:

  • Hold a certificate of completion in paralegal studies from an ABA-approved paralegal program.
  • Hold a certificate of completion, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from an appropriately-accredited school that requires at least 24 credits of law-related courses.
  • Hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree in any subject from an accredited school and have at least four years of substantive paralegal experience.

Eligible paralegals must submit an application to take the CCP Exam on the CAPA’s website. The exam consists of 200 multiple choice and true or false questions covering core paralegal skills; ethics and California rules; and substantive law. A score of 75% or higher must be achieved to receive the CCP credential, and a certification fee must be paid. To maintain the credential, CCPs must pay renewal fees and accumulate 40 hours of MCLE every five years, comprising at least 30 hours of general credit and 10 hours of legal ethics credit. CCPs must track all MCLE credits and submit proof of attendance.

California Paralegal Career and Salary Outlook

Prospective paralegals may seek out career opportunities from top law firms in California including Latham & Watkins LLP, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, Cooley LLP, Wilson Sonsini, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, and O’Melveny, all of which sustain demand for paralegal services. Cooley was named Most Innovative Law Firm by Financial Times for its commitment to innovation and justice issues.

Corporate legal departments are diverse and vary in their demand for paralegal services, but may offer a solid alternative to the environment of a private law firm. California is home to many Fortune 500 companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, and Netflix, all of which may need paralegal assistance in their legal departments. Additionally, government bodies such as the city attorney’s office and public defender’s office may have paralegal positions available across the state. LinkedIn is a good research resource where you can search on geography (California or city-level) for “paralegal” to find networking opportunities and also companies most associated with users identifying as paralegals; companies in California with the most LinkedIn users as paralegals include:

  • Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP
  • Cooley LLP
  • Facebook
  • Fragomen
  • Google
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Morrison & Foerster LLP
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

For more information about paralegal careers, take a look at our careers page.

California Paralegal Salary Information

Projected Job Growth

13.7%

Paralegals in California from 2018-20282

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 36,500 paralegals and legal assistants were employed in California as of October 2020, which is the second-highest employment level in the nation.3 Projections Central reports 12% national employment growth for paralegals and legal assistants nationwide from 2018 to 2028, which is slightly above the average growth projected for all occupations combined.2 California paralegal jobs are expected to grow at a slightly faster rate, at almost 14% during the same time period.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.

The average annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants in California is $66,250, which makes it the second top paying state for this profession.3 In addition, five California metropolitan areas, including Napa, San Jose, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and San Diego, are reported in the top paying metropolitan areas for paralegals.3 Prospective paralegals should note that wages can differ from firm to firm and change further based on level of experience and geographic area. For example, companies in an area such as San Jose, 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. Estimates are based on national data, not school-specific information; data accessed in October 2021.

California Paralegal Salary by Metro Area

Metro AreaNumber Employed4Average Annual Salary4
Bakersfield360$60,510
Fresno640$50,210
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim15,250$63,390
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura520$58,230
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario1,730$61,180
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade1,840$58,180
San Diego-Carlsbad2,620$68,130
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward6,390$75,820
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara1,530$90,280

Paralegal Resources

Paralegal Associations in California

These are volunteer organizations, typically with elected boards, that focus on professional development and networking for a specific geographical location and/or area of law.

  • California Alliance of Paralegal Associations (CAPARA): Promotes the advancement of the paralegal profession through networking, the sharing of resources from member organizations.
  • Central Coast Paralegal Association (CCPASLO): Provides resources to support educational and networking opportunities for San Luis Obispo County paralegals, including a scholarship for future paralegals and extensive networking events.
  • Commission for Certification of California Paralegals (CCCP): Provides a uniform voluntary certification (California Advanced Specialist or CAS) to California paralegals who can demonstrate advanced understanding of California law.
  • Fresno Paralegal Association (FPA): Serves the Fresno paralegal community by encouraging and expanding the profession, encouraging the exchange of ideas, and providing networking opportunities.
  • Inland Counties Association of Paralegals (ICAP): Provides educational resources and opportunities for personal growth for those in the paralegal profession in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.
  • Kern County Paralegal Association (KCPA): Seeks to help paralegals in Kern County maintain the high standards of the paralegal profession by providing continuing legal education oppportunities and networking events, as well as cultivating the exchange of information among paralegals.
  • Los Angeles Paralegal Association (LAPA) : Works to advance the paralegal profession in Los Angeles through an online career center that allows job seekers to search current job opportunities, post their resumes, and sign up for job alerts.
  • Orange County Paralegal Association (OCPA): Strives to maintain a high level of professionalism for those in the paralegal field in and around Orange County through educational events and access to a job bank.
  • Sacramento Valley Paralegal Association (SVPA): Provides professional and educational resources to paralegals, including information regarding state laws, continuing education opportunities, several annual meetings, an informative newsletter, and a job bank for members only.
  • San Diego Paralegal Association (SDPA): Works to improve the paralegal profession in San Diego through educational activities, a mentorship program, involvement in pro bono clinics, and overall increased awareness of this profession.
  • San Francisco Paralegal Association (SFPA): Empowers paralegals to enhance their professional development through annual conferences, leadership opportunities, quarterly socials, and scholarship opportunities.
  • Santa Barbara County Bar Association (SBCBA): Seeks to preserve and advance the paralegal profession in Santa Barbara, offering general membership meetings for paralegals, discounts to local businesses, and extensive networking opportunities.

Additional Resources

References:
1. American Bar Association Directory of ABA Approved Paralegal Education Programs: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/paralegal-resource-directory/
2. Projections Central Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wages, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcma.htm