Paralegal Careers

A paralegal is in charge of substantive legal work. Typically, they serve lawyers who are so busy building a case that they need help sorting out all of the legal work. That's where you come in.

Paralegals take pride in their responsibilities by administering their knowledge of the law and legal procedures. It can be a great thing to have a paralegal on the case because the law will determine what direction a lawyer may swing a case.

While you definitely need a working knowledge of what the law is, you really only need to obtain an associate's degree for this line of work. Sure, you could probably spend your entire life going through and memorizing every single law out there, but laws change all the time so chances are you're going to have to look it up anyway.

What Does a Paralegal Do

Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Duties

Paralegals and legal assistants typically do the following:

  • Investigate and gather the facts of a case
  • Conduct research on relevant laws, regulations, and legal articles
  • Organize and maintain documents in paper or electronic filing systems
  • Gather and arrange evidence and other legal documents for attorney review and case preparation
  • Write or summarize reports to help lawyers prepare for trials
  • Draft correspondence and legal documents, such as contracts and mortgages
  • Get affidavits and other formal statements that may be used as evidence in court
  • Help lawyers during trials by handling exhibits, taking notes, or reviewing trial transcripts
  • File exhibits, briefs, appeals and other legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
  • Call clients, witnesses, lawyers, and outside vendors to schedule interviews, meetings, and depositions

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. 

Paralegals use technology and computer software for managing and organizing the increasing amount of documents and data collected during a case. Many paralegals use computer software to catalog documents, and to review documents for specific keywords or subjects. Because of these responsibilities, paralegals must be familiar with electronic database management and be current on the latest software used for electronic discovery. Electronic discovery refers to all electronic materials obtained by the parties during the litigation or investigation. These materials may be emails, data, documents, accounting databases, and websites.

Paralegals’ specific duties often vary depending on the area of law in which they work.

Corporate paralegals, for example, often help lawyers prepare employee contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, and companies’ annual financial reports. Corporate paralegals may monitor and review government regulations to ensure that the corporation is aware of new legal requirements.

Litigation paralegals maintain documents received from clients, conduct research for lawyers, retrieve and organize evidence for use at depositions and trials, and draft settlement agreements. Some litigation paralegals may also help coordinate the logistics of attending a trial, including reserving office space, transporting exhibits and documents to the courtroom, and setting up computers and other equipment.

Paralegals may also specialize in other legal areas, such as personal injury, criminal law, employee benefits, intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate.

Specific job duties may also vary by the size of the law firm.

In small firms, paralegals’ duties tend to vary more. In addition to reviewing and organizing documents, paralegals may prepare written reports that help lawyers determine how to handle their cases. If lawyers decide to file lawsuits on behalf of clients, paralegals may help draft documents to be filed with the court.

In large organizations, paralegals may work on a particular phase of a case, rather than handling a case from beginning to end. For example, paralegals may only review legal material for internal use, maintain reference files, conduct research for lawyers, or collect and organize evidence for hearings. After gaining experience, a paralegal may become responsible for more complicated tasks.

Paralegals and legal assistants often work in teams with attorneys, fellow paralegals, and other legal support staff.

Unlike the work of other administrative and legal support staff employed in a law firm, the paralegal’s work is billed to the client.

Paralegals may have frequent interactions with clients and third-party vendors. In addition, experienced paralegals may assume supervisory responsibilities, such as overseeing team projects or delegating work to other paralegals.

How To Become a Paralegal

Most paralegals and legal assistants have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.

Education

There are several paths a person can take to become a paralegal. Candidates can enroll in a community college paralegal program to earn an associate’s degree. However, many employers prefer, or even require, applicants to have a bachelor’s degree.

Because only a small number of schools offer bachelor’s and master's degrees in paralegal studies, applicants typically have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and earn a certificate in paralegal studies.

Associate’s and bachelor's degree programs in paralegal studies usually offer paralegal training courses in legal research, legal writing, and the legal applications of computers, along with courses in other academic subjects, such as corporate law and international law. Most certificate programs provide intensive paralegal training for people who already hold college degrees.

Employers sometimes hire college graduates with no legal experience or legal education and train them on the job. In these cases, the new employee may have experience in a technical field that is useful to law firms, such tax preparation, nursing, or criminal justice.

Other Experience

In many cases, employers prefer candidates who have at least 1 year of experience in a law firm or other office setting. In addition, a technical understanding of a specific legal specialty can be helpful. For example, a personal-injury law firm may desire a paralegal with a background in nursing or health administration.

Work experience in a law firm or other office setting is particularly important for people who do not have formal paralegal training.

Many paralegal training programs offer an internship, in which students gain practical experience by working for several months in a private law firm, the office of a public defender or attorney general, a corporate legal department, a legal aid organization, or a government agency. Internship experience helps students improve their technical skills and can enhance their employment prospects.

Certifications

Although not required, some employers may prefer to hire applicants who have completed a paralegal certification program. Many national and local paralegal organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications to students able to pass an exam. Other organizations offer voluntary paralegal certifications for paralegals who meet certain experience and education criteria. For more information about paralegal certifications, see the More Info section.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Paralegals must be able to document and present their research and related information to their supervising attorney.

Computer skills. Paralegals need to be familiar with using computers for legal research and litigation support. They also use computer programs for organizing and maintaining important documents.

Interpersonal skills. Paralegals spend most of their time working with clients and other professionals and must be able to develop good relationships. They must make clients feel comfortable sharing personal information related to their cases.

Organizational skills. Paralegals may be responsible for many cases at one time. They must adapt quickly to changing deadlines.

Research skills. Paralegals need good research and investigative skills to conduct legal research.

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Average Salary
$46,939
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
12%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
3,399
Job Openings

Paralegal Career Paths

Top Careers Before Paralegal

Top Careers After Paralegal

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Average Salary for a Paralegal

Paralegals in America make an average salary of $46,939 per year or $23 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $62,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $35,000 per year.
Average Salary
$46,939

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Seattle, WA
Salary Range44k - 68k$55k$55,415
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range42k - 70k$55k$54,583
Denver, CO
Salary Range42k - 64k$52k$52,499
Washington, DC
Salary Range41k - 63k$51k$51,332
Minneapolis, MN
Salary Range39k - 58k$48k$48,196
Chicago, IL
Salary Range39k - 58k$48k$47,959
$31k
$70k

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Paralegal Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Paralegal. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Paralegal Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Paralegal resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Paralegal Demographics

Gender

female

72.8 %

male

22.9 %

unknown

4.3 %

Ethnicity

White

63.3 %

Hispanic or Latino

20.4 %

Black or African American

8.9 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

55.7 %

French

10.5 %

Mandarin

4.0 %
See More Demographics

Paralegal Education

Majors

Degrees

Bachelors

42.1 %

Associate

24.2 %

Certificate

21.2 %

Top Colleges for Paralegals

1. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582

2. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

3. Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,104
Enrollment
7,089

4. Texas Wesleyan University

Fort Worth, TX • Private

In-State Tuition
$30,300
Enrollment
1,445

5. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

6. University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$14,184
Enrollment
30,845

7. University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$13,226
Enrollment
31,568

8. University of La Verne

La Verne, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$43,050
Enrollment
5,098

9. University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati, OH • Public

In-State Tuition
$11,000
Enrollment
25,973

10. Hamline University

Saint Paul, MN • Private

In-State Tuition
$41,290
Enrollment
2,077
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Paralegal

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 12.9% of paralegals listed legal advice on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and computer skills are important as well.

  • Legal Advice, 12.9%
  • Legal Documents, 12.2%
  • Law Firm, 8.0%
  • Discovery Responses, 7.4%
  • Medical Records, 5.4%
  • Other Skills, 54.1%
  • See All Paralegal Skills

Best States For a Paralegal

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a paralegal. The best states for people in this position are Washington, Alaska, Connecticut, and Colorado. Paralegals make the most in Washington with an average salary of $54,806. Whereas in Alaska and Connecticut, they would average $53,707 and $53,297, respectively. While paralegals would only make an average of $52,547 in Colorado, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Washington

Total Paralegal Jobs:
108
Highest 10% Earn:
$81,000
Location Quotient:
1.28
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Colorado

Total Paralegal Jobs:
101
Highest 10% Earn:
$76,000
Location Quotient:
1.47
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Alaska

Total Paralegal Jobs:
15
Highest 10% Earn:
$62,000
Location Quotient:
1.55
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Paralegal Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ paralegals and discovered their number of paralegal opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Robert Half International was the best, especially with an average salary of $44,303. United States Army follows up with an average salary of $42,421, and then comes Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy with an average of $46,110. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as a paralegal. The employers include Ally Financial, Energizer, and Fairway Independent Mortgage

1. Robert Half International
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$44,303
Paralegals Hired: 
402+
2. United States Army
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$42,421
Paralegals Hired: 
244+
3. Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$46,110
Paralegals Hired: 
122+
4. Randstad USA
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$46,389
Paralegals Hired: 
116+
5. Legal Aid Society
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$43,136
Paralegals Hired: 
80+
6. Brown University
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$42,763
Paralegals Hired: 
77+

Paralegal Videos

Updated October 2, 2020