The average salary of a paralegal depends on the field of practice, employment, amount of experience and location. A specified field of practice, degree in the field, having voluntary certification and being employed by a private employer usually means that a paralegal earns more.
Average Salary of a Paralegal
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2008, salaried, full-time paralegals earned a median annual income of $46,120. Overall salaries ranged from $36,000 to $73,000. Paralegals paid hourly earned an average wage of $22.58.
Paralegals additionally receive bonuses and benefits. PayScale reports that, in 2010, bonuses ranged from approximately $600-2,500 per year. Benefits included health and life insurance, sick and paid holiday days and employer-matched retirement investment accounts.
The highest paying employer is the executive branch of the federal government, which in 2008 paid paralegals an average of $58,000. Private companies are the second-highest paying employer, paying paralegals an average of $55,910 per year.
The locations in which paralegals earned the highest salaries include Washington DC, California, New York, Illinois and Alaska. Washington D.C. and West Virginia had the highest concentrations of paralegals.
Factors Affecting Average Salaries
The amount of experience a paralegal has, the field of practice he's in and the education he holds all affect a paralegal's average salary. Paralegals with five or more years of practice typically earn more than recent graduates.
Employers also pay more to paralegals who specialize in a field, which occurs as a result of the paralegal practicing in a single field of law for an extended period of time. The BLS reports that real estate, medical malpractice and bankruptcy paralegals are in high demand and are usually paid more for their expertise.
Most paralegals have at least an associate's degree in paralegal studies, but some have a bachelor's degree. While a bachelor's degree is attractive to employers, it does not necessarily mean a higher salary because a degree is not required to work in the field. Paralegals with a college degree in another field often have a certificate in paralegal studies. A certificate is treated similar to an associate's degree, and therefore rarely leads to a higher salary. Very few paralegals are trained on the job by attorneys.
There is no universal certification requirement for paralegals, but the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offer voluntary certification. Certifications may increase a paralegal's earning potential.
Your Paralegal Salary
If you are entering the paralegal field and are want to know how much you can expect to earn, consider your education, experience and your potential employers. The average salary for a paralegal is just that: an average. Don't be surprised if you receive an offer for more or less money and always remember that you can negotiate an offer.