Paralegal Salaries and Hiring Outlook
For future paralegals, earning potential is a key factor to consider when deciding whether to enroll in a paralegal degree program. A strong national average salary suggests active demand for professionals in this field. While salary varies depending on multiple factors like education, experience, practice area, and location, knowing the average salary for paralegals in your area can help you decide if pursuing a paralegal education is the right career choice for you. Continue reading to find out more about factors impacting paralegal salary as well as a breakdown of paralegal salaries by state.
Table of Contents:
- How Much Do Paralegals Make?
- Paralegal Salaries by State
- Additional Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Do Paralegals Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an average annual salary of $56,610, and an average hourly wage of $27.22, for the approximately 333,000 paralegals and legal assistants working in the US in 2020.1 However, as mentioned above, paralegal salary is not only influenced by a variety of factors, but it can vary greatly. For example, according to the BLS, the top 10% of paralegals earn $85,160, and the lowest 10% earn $32,900.1 The table below provides an overview of the educational requirements, job outlook, and average salary for paralegals compared to related occupations.
|Occupation||Typical Highest Education Level Recommended2||Number Employed in the US3||Average Annual Openings3||10-Year Job Growth3||Average Salary1,4,5|
|Paralegals and Legal Assistants||Associate’s degree (50%)||325,700||40,400||12%||$56,610|
|Lawyers||Professional degree (68%)||823,900||45,700||6.1%||$148,910|
|Legal Secretaries and Administrative Assistants||Some college, no degree (30%)||180,100||14,300||-20.9%||$48,980|
As you plan your paralegal career, you should consider the following areas that may contribute to your earning potential.
Paralegal salary can be influenced by their education level. According to O*NET OnLine, 34% of job incumbents and subject matter experts reported that a bachelor’s degree is needed for paralegals; 50% reported that paralegals should have an associate’s degree; and a further 7% recommend a post-secondary certificate.2 In its annual survey, NALA, the Paralegal Association (the former National Association of Legal Assistants) has consistently found that higher levels of education – from the associate’s through to the master’s level – are correlated with higher average salaries.6 It reported that paralegals with associate degrees earned an average salary of $58,026, compared with paralegals with master’s degrees who earned an average salary of $64,397.6
Experience in the legal field is another factor that influences the pay potential of paralegals and legal assistants. In fact, according to the NALA report, years of legal experience is the factor with the greatest impact on the compensation of paralegals. Paralegals with one to five years of experience earned an average gross salary of $40,385 per year and total compensation of $41,915, while those with over 25 years of experience commanded an average gross salary of $65,458 and total compensation of $70,011.6
The size of the firm that a paralegal works for also has an impact, with smaller firms tending to pay less than larger ones. According to the NALA report, paralegals working for firms with between two to five attorneys earned an average gross salary of $54,906 per year, while paralegals working for firms with more than 46 attorneys earned an average of $64,551 per year.6
Industry, or employment sector, is another important factor in salary potential. According to the BLS, of the major industries that employ paralegals, the merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods industry had the highest average salary ($134,210); followed by land subdivision at $90,360; semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing at $85,440; grantmaking and giving services ($85,350); and natural gas distribution ($84,300).6
Geographic area can also have a major impact on salary. According to the BLS, the states with the highest average annual salaries for paralegals in 2020 were Washington DC at $83,330, California at $66,250, Washington at $63,050, Colorado at $62,950, and New York at $62,530.1 The states with the lowest average annual salaries included Arkansas at $40,420 and Wyoming at $43,160.1 The five highest-paying metropolitan areas for paralegals and legal assistants were reported to be mostly in California: Napa; San Jose; Trenton, New Jersey; San Francisco; and Santa Rosa.1 NALA reported that the Far West region had the highest average salary for paralegals at $66,512 and the Plain States region had the lowest average salary at $55,060.6
Paralegal Salaries by State
The following sortable table shows our ranking of the best states for paralegals, relative to the average annual paralegal salary for paralegals in each state; the home value index and the corresponding percentage of the median home price that the average salary buys there; and the projected paralegal employment growth in each state.
|Rank||StateUS Average||2019 Average Paralegals and Legal Assistants Salary7$55,020||Zillow Home Value Index (11/2020)8$263,351||% of Zillow Home Value Average Salary Buys21%||2018 Paralegals and Legal Assistants Employed3325,700||2028 Paralegals and Legal Assistants Projected3364,800||10-Year Growth (2018-2028)312%||Best States for Paralegals and Legal Assistants (Avg=1)1|
- NALA, the Paralegal Association: A national organization that seeks to promote the paralegal profession and publishes annual salary and compensation surveys providing up-to-date information for members and aspiring paralegals.
- Robert Half Paralegal Salary Guide: A nationally-recognized name in staffing and employee development that publishes average paralegal salaries by metro as well as position/role, firm size, and more.
- National Association for Legal Support Professionals (NALS): Provides a career center, active discussion forums, and more to its members.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are paralegals paid on an hourly or salary basis?
According to a 2020 report by NALA, a little over half (52%) of paralegals reported being paid on a salary basis, while the remaining 48% are paid hourly.6
How many billable hours per week do most paralegals work?
According to the NALA report, paralegals worked an average of 29 billable hours per week in 2020.6
Are paralegals usually expected or required by their employers to produce a certain number of billable hours each week?
The NALA survey reported that 41% of paralegals are expected to work a set number of billable hours per week, while 55% are not (the remaining 5% answered not applicable).6
How does voluntary certification affect paralegal salary?
In 2020, paralegals who were CLA/CP certified earned an average gross salary of $65,134, around $4,000 more per year than those without this certification.6 Paralegals with ACP certification earned an average of $68,257 per year, around $6,500 more per year than paralegals who were not ACP certified.6
Do paralegals usually get retirement and/or a pension plan through their employers?
Yes, 73% of paralegals surveyed by NALA said that their employers provided a retirement plan.6 74% of paralegals reported that their employers contributed to a retirement plan on their behalf, which was down from 2014 when 82% of paralegals reported receiving employer contributions.6
Do paralegals typically receive health insurance through their employers?
According to those surveyed by NALA, 35% of paralegals said that health insurance benefits were provided or paid by the employer, while 22% said the employer paid partial benefits and 14% said that health insurance was not offered at all.6
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wages, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes232011.htm
2. O*NET OnLine, Paralegals and Legal Assistants: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/23-2011.00
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://www.projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wages, Lawyers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes231011.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020 Occupational Employment and Wages, Legal Secretaries and Administrative Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436012.htm
6. NALA 2020 National Utilization & Compensation Study: https://nala.org/research-and-survey-findings/2021/
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcst.htm
8. Zillow, November 2020 Home Values: https://www.zillow.com/home-values/