Illinois Paralegal Career Guide

Our paralegal career guide is designed to help you get a start in the legal field with up-to-date information on Illinois paralegal salary, job outlook, career resources, and answers to some of the most common questions about how to become a paralegal in Illinois. Get started with the easy-to-navigate directory below.

Table of Contents:
Paralegal Careers
Job Outlook in Illinois
Salary Outlook
Paralegal Certification
Career Quick Start Tips – How to Become a Paralegal in Illinois
Career Advice from Experienced Legal Professionals
Additional Paralegal Resources

Paralegal Careers

At the entry level, most paralegals in Illinois hold at least an associate’s degree in paralegal studies or a related field. Though governmental agencies and corporate legal departments employ a number of paralegals, the majority of paralegals are employed by law firms. Internships and networking through university career centers are effective methods of connecting with local law firms and can be especially useful for recent graduates. Large Illinois-based law firms include Baker McKenzie; Sidley Austin; McDermott, Will & Emery; and Mayer Brown. Firms such as these employ numerous attorneys and often assemble large legal teams, sustaining substantial demand for qualified and professional paralegals. Additionally, many national law firms maintain offices in Chicago and are often in need of local paralegal assistance. Large enough to sustain a variety of legal subjects and maintain a demand for paralegal assistance, Jenner & Block LLP may be suited to career-oriented paralegal candidates seeking employment in a large law firm. Paralegals interested in specialization or seeking a more intimate work environment should inquire at small local firms.

Job Outlook in Illinois

Projected Job Growth


Paralegals in Illinois from 2016-20261

As employers seek to optimize the cost of providing legal services, law firms are expected to increase the proportion of support positions and continue to expand and diversify the tasks allocated to paralegals and legal assistants. In step with this trend, a 15.5% rate of job growth for paralegals in Illinois is projected from 2016 to 2026.1 This mirrors Bureau of Labor Statistics projections of 15% growth in employment for paralegals and legal assistants nationwide during the same time period.3 Though paralegal and legal assistant positions remain competitive due to a large number of applicants, the dense concentration of law firms and corporate bases in the Chicago area should mirror the projected employment increase for paralegals nationwide and sustain demand for paralegals.

Illinois Paralegal Salary Outlook

In May 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 12,070 paralegals and legal assistants employed in the state of Illinois, averaging an annual wage of $56,990.2 The average paralegal compensation in Illinois compares favorably with the national average annual wage for paralegals of $53,910.2 The average annual salary of paralegals in Illinois and the projected increase in employment opportunity contribute to an optimistic hiring environment, especially for those who have received certification from professional associations. Candidates for paralegal jobs in Illinois should note that paralegal salary in Chicago tends to trend higher than in other areas of the state due to the higher cost of living and the higher demand for paralegal services. Other areas of dense business concentration where paralegals may find more competitive salaries include Naperville and Schaumburg.

Illinois Paralegal Salary Info By Metro Area

An overview of paralegal salary by metro area in Illinois:

Metro AreaNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights9,530$58,840
St. Louis IL-MO2,490$53,060

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.4

Paralegal Certification in Illinois

Though some law firms, corporate legal departments, and government agencies provide on-site paralegal training, the majority of practicing paralegals earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, or post-baccalaureate degree in paralegal studies. The American Bar Association formally approves 17 paralegal education programs in Illinois. Paralegal411 provides an overview of paralegal schools in Illinois to help you find the right program. These programs provide a basic foundation of legal knowledge with an emphasis on legal procedures, legal ethics, and professional research and writing. Paralegal programs may offer a variety of degrees, online options, and internship opportunities.

Illinois Certification

As of March 2015, the state of Illinois has no mandatory licensing or certification requirements for paralegals. However, voluntary certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), the National Federal of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), the American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. (AAPI), or the National Association of Legal Secretaries is highly recommended, as these professional associations set the nationally accepted standard for paralegals and legal assistants. The NALA CLA/CP examination, the most common of the professional certificate options, includes an educational requirement that may be fulfilled by successful completion of a paralegal program, a bachelor’s degree in any field with one year of paralegal experience, or a high school diploma or equivalent with seven years’ paralegal experience and twenty hours of continuing legal education credit. For more information regarding paralegal training and career prospects in Illinois, refer to the Illinois Paralegal Association (IPA).

Career Quick Start Tips — How to Become a Paralegal in Illinois

As there are no formal requirements for paralegals in Illinois, there are various routes to becoming a paralegal in the state. There are many paralegal programs in Chicago and in greater Illinois that can prepare prospective professionals for this career. Many paralegals possess a combination of education, experience (which can include internships), and on-the-job training. Beginning as a document preparer or legal secretary in a law office and earning promotion to a paralegal position is another way to enter this career. You can find out more about how to become a paralegal in Illinois through Paralegal411’s national guide Steps to Become a Paralegal.

Career Advice from Experienced Legal Professionals

Paralegal Resources

Paralegals are integral to the firms in which they work and can make a positive difference for their employers and the clients with whom they work. Having the right resources at the right time is key to success as a paralegal. The following resources can help you become more competitive in the paralegal job market.

Illinois Paralegal Career Books

  • Paralegal Ethics – This concise guide to ethics in a paralegal’s practice is a handy reference and refresher for professionals at all levels. Included are the full text and analysis of the ABA Model Rule and the NALA and NFPA rules and guidelines. This guide also includes case studies and hypothetical situations.
  • Paralegal Procedures and Practices – Written for the beginning paralegal, this book covers the essentials of daily tasks such as client interviews, qualifying evidence, and document drafting. Now in its second edition, the text includes over 250 exercises and problems in legal research, as well as a primer on evidentiary rules.
  • The Professional Paralegal Workbook – With a specific focus on criminal, tort, and contract law, the Professional Paralegal Workbook aims to help paralegals bridge the gap between school and the workplace with substantial discussions of the elements of law in theory and in practice. Also covered are legal analysis, writing, and research for the working professional.
  • The Paralegal’s Desk Reference – The Paralegal’s Desk Reference is one of the most comprehensive texts to find quick answers to common legal support questions. Included are chapters on reading police reports and working with police and other professionals such as investigators and claims adjusters; location of witnesses; and other topical assignments common to paralegals working on research and investigation.
  • The BlueBook: A Uniform System of Citation – Legal citation can be complex but this portable desk reference written by the Harvard Law Review provides easy to follow rules and examples for legal citation and sourcing. In its 19th edition, the BlueBook is one of the most authoritative sources for systematic and proper legal citation.
  • The Litigation Paralegal: A Systems Approach – Now in its fifth edition, this text covers both basic and advanced practice for paralegals working in a litigation environment. In addition to traditional research and process, this book provides an explanation of e-discovery and filing as well as the applications of the most recent revisions to federal law.
  • The Law of Corporations, Partnerships, and Sole Proprietorships – Though the content of this text has applications for all legal professionals, corporate paralegals will find it particularly indispensable for daily reference. In its 6th edition, the text includes the theory and practice of business law from financial structures to bankruptcy rounds. Practical advice for corporate paralegals is included throughout the text.
  • Family Law for Paralegals – Paralegals working in family law will find this text’s treatment of the historical basis for current family law and the implications of current family law on contemporary issues engaging and relevant. Case studies drawn from recent and historic cases, coverage of modern technology and its applications in family law, and discussion of international family law along with other fundamental topics in this area of practice are given with thorough analysis and discussion for today’s paralegal.

Paralegal Job Search Websites for Illinois

  • Illinois State Bar Association – Provides a Career Resource Center listing paralegal and legal assistant jobs across the state, including paralegal jobs in Chicago.
  • Illinois Legal Advocate – A division of Illinois Legal Aid, provides a jobs board with opportunities for paralegals.
  • Paralegal411 jobs board – For even more Illinois and Chicago paralegal jobs, visit our jobs board.

Illinois Court Info

  • State.IL.US/Court – The official website of the Illinois Courts contains links to Circuit, Appellate, and the Supreme Courts as well as standardized forms and documents for court use. The web portal also posts career opportunities for the judicial branches statewide.
  • State.IL.US/Court/StyleManual/SupCrt_StyleManual.pdf – This link to the style manual for the Illinois Supreme and Appellate Courts is useful for paralegals working with cases in these court systems or who find it necessary to format citations for these courts.

Law Libraries in Illinois

  • Illinois Supreme Court Library – Located in Springfield, the Illinois Supreme Court Library is open to legal professionals and the public. Though library materials are not circulated, visitors can access a comprehensive collection of over 100,000 volumes on-site. With appropriate citation information, fax of documents from the collection is offered for a nominal fee.
  • Cook County Law Library – The Cook County Library consists of six libraries within Cook County. The main library is in downtown Chicago at the Daley Center, with five branch locations at county courthouses. The library collection includes print collections across all areas of law as well as electronic database access for research.

Paralegal Associations in Illinois

  • Illinois Paralegal Association – Founded in 1972, the Illinois Paralegal Association serves paralegals and legal assistants across the state. Benefits to members include access to career seminars, a jobs board, and professional mentoring. Annual dues are $75 for regular members, $45 for students, and $65 for associates.
  • The Chicago Bar Association – The Chicago Bar Association recently amended its membership structure to include Non-Lawyer Associate Membership for paralegals and other legal professionals. This membership level does not require admittance to the state bar and gives paralegals access to an exclusive on-demand training video library, technology training programs, and networking outings, among other benefits. The cost of Non-Lawyer Associate membership is $80 per year.

1. Projections Central: https://www.projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 Occupational Employment and Wages, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Legal/Paralegals-and-legal-assistants.htm#tab-5
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Illinois: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_il.htm
5. American Bar Association: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/paralegals/paralegal-resource-directory/