Paralegals typically earn from about $40,000 up to about $70,000 per year, including bonuses. As detailed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the lowest paid 10%, earn $30,000 or less – while the highest paid 10% earn $80,000 and more.
Variations among paralegal salaries are based primarily on the 3 sets of factors covered below.
Type of employer
Paralegals can work in each of the following: law firm, government, non-profit, or major corporation, and salary differs quiet significantly between them.
Corporate employers – as opposed to private law-firms, government agencies, and non-profits – offer some of the highest wages and salaries for paralegal work. Paralegals in corporate positions typically earn about 20% more than paralegals in law-firm or government jobs. Software publishers are some of the highest paying employers. The average paralegal salary is $77,000, and many paralegal salaries in the software industry are even higher.
All of the annual salary figures in this article are based on full-time employment, which typically means 37.5 to 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year (with two weeks’ vacation). Obviously, part-time paralegals may earn less. And there are many opportunities to earn more - through overtime, supplementing one’s full-time job with freelance work, etc.
The average salary of a paralegal working for a law firm is about $50,000, but in larger cities the earnings are often higher and may approach $80,000 or more. Indeed, some law firms may pay only about $25,000, while others pay up to $100,000 or more. Municipal paralegals working for local governments earn a little more than the average law-firm salary, about $53,000, and those working for the federal executive branch average nearly $70,000 -- but state government paralegals tend to earn less, about $45,000.
By location, the highest average paralegal salaries are in seven large states, four of the smallest eastern states, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, with average annual salaries ranging from $53,000 to $73,000. California and New York, for example, average $60,000 and $55,000 respectively. The other states with salaries ranging between $53,000 and $60,000 are Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware. The District of Columbia stands out with average annual paralegal salaries of $73,000.
The states with the lowest average paralegal salaries are Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia, with average annual salaries ranging from $37,000 to $43,000.
Don’t overlook the variations within each state!
Check the labor and compensation statistics of your preferred potential locations of employment in detail here. Certain metropolitan areas stand out distinctly from the overall statistics of the state they are located in. For example, Alabama has average annual salaries of $45,000 or less, but the Huntsville city area averages nearly $67,000. Even in generally well-paying states, certain cities stand above – for example, the average paralegal salary in San Francisco is more than $10,000 above the state average. New Bedford, Massachusetts and San Jose, California stand out as well.
Likewise, there are a few non-metropolitan areas that stand out from the areas around them and from the states they are located in. For example, 50% of paralegals in Colorado make about $50,000 or less per year, but in North central Colorado the average salary is nearly $55,000. Similarly, some rural areas of Alaska, such as in the southeast part of the state, boast average paralegal salaries of more than $60,000 -- well above the national average.
Area of Specialization
By “specialization,” we refer both to formal specialization options one can focus on by training and to de-facto specialization that may occur by one’s choice of job or industry.
Some of the higher-paying areas of formal or de-facto specialization are:
Corporate paralegal specialties:
International law – average annual salary of $77,000
International law focused on Southeast Asian countries seems to be taking off especially in recent years.
- Software publishing – as mentioned above, paralegals in this area have average annual salaries of $77,000
- Petroleum companies also pay some of the highest corporate paralegal salaries
- Mergers and acquisitions – average annual salary of $70,000 (some estimates place the average as high as $94,000)
- Labor – average annual salary of $67,000
Law firm paralegal specialties:
- Municipal law – average annual salary of $71,000
- Energy law – average annual salary of $68,000
- Tax law – average annual salary of $68,000
- Intellectual property – average annual salary of $67,000
- Securities – average annual salary of $65,000
Other business specialties
Real estate specialization, whether within a law-firm or for a real-estate oriented corporation or small business, is also often a highly paid paralegal specialty, averaging nearly $90,000 in annual salary.
Some of the lower-paying areas are among those that are sometimes chosen out of passion for social issues, such as criminal-defense law and family law, which tend to pay less than $40,000 per year.
Credentials and length of time on job
Entry-level paralegals average about $46,000 per year in salary. But paralegals with higher training and/or 8 years or more experience can average nearly $72,000. On average, paralegals with master’s degrees may earn $5000 more per year than those with 2-year or lessor degrees. Combining education and experience advantages, the top 10% of experienced paralegals earn upwards of $90,000 per year.
Excellent long-term employment and compensation forecast for paralegals
Because of the excellent pay and benefits, low-stress work conditions compared to that of other legal professionals, wide variety of work environments and specialty options, and employment rates far above most other professions, Forbes magazine recently listed the paralegal profession as one of its most underrated jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for paralegals is projected to be above average for the foreseeable future, creating excellent conditions to maintain or increase the current high compensation standards.