Paralegal Salaries in the United States

Surveys of paralegal compensation in the United States report rather significant variance between the highs and lows; however, the reported averages appear to be much closer together.

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A 2006 survey of 1,468 individual respondents conducted by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations Inc. found since 1993 over the period beginning 1993 continuing through 2006 gross salaries of paralegals climbed steadily at a rate of 61%.  This is a compounded 3.8% annual growth rate, or an inflation-adjusted rate of 15% since 1993.

The same study also found that during the 1993-2006 period, bonuses rose 85%; 401(k) savings plans are now offered to 81% of paralegals, up from 65% in 1997; pension/retirement plans are now offered to 34%, down from 45% in 1997; employer-paid life insurance is now offered to 77%, up from 68% in 1997 while vacation and paid sick leave have increased slowly to cover almost 100% of the respondents; fully paid medical insurance is now offered to 32%, down from 52% in 1997. The geographic profile of the paralegals participating in this 2006 NFPA survey was 40% from the Midwest, 25% from the Northeast, and just under one-fifth each from the South and West.

The average salary reported by the 2006 NFPA survey was a mean of $50,496 and a median of $49,000. One-fourth of the paralegals responding reported a salary below $40,000, and one-fourth reported salary at or above $60,000.

One-third of the NFPA survey participants reported receiving a bonus. The average lowest overall was a mean of $2,994 in a medium of $900. One-fourth of all bonuses received were $3,500 and above; one-fourth were $2,000 or lower. The average bonus as a percent of total salary was a mean of 5.5% and a median of 3.8%, with one-fourth above 6.6% and one-fourth below 1.8%.

A more recent 2009 survey conducted by Incisive Legal Intelligence in association with the International Paralegal Management Association (IPMA), in which more than 252 organizations (180 law firms and 72 corporate law departments) participated, representing a total of 10,613 paralegal positions, reported overall compensation of US paralegals decreased compared to similar 2008 survey data; and paralegals working in law firms received higher base compensation increases than their corporate law department peers.

These survey results contrast slightly with those reported by Legal Assistant Today’s 2009 Salary Survey which found a small increase in average law firm and corporate salaries compared to the previous year.  That survey reported average law firm paralegal salaries at $53,937, corporate salaries at $62,336, and government salaries at $56,615, compared to a 2007 national average salary of $52,979.

CNN’s reporting current research by Money magazine and says that 90% of United States paralegals currently earn a base salary of $39,200 increasing to $40,100 with bonuses. This same research reports the top 10% of U.S. paralegals earn a base salary of $64,900, increasing to $67,400 with bonuses. This study further indicates the 10-year job growth potential of the paralegal profession to be approximately 30%; with growth in the number of jobs being 66,633 over the period increasing total job openings of 84,617.  Interesting national patterns emerged in this study regarding the highest earning legal environments and specialties. As usual, the top environment for maximum earnings is corporate; paralegals making the most money have usually done so in corporate transactional environments.  However, two emerging areas catching up with corporate are intellectual property and commercial real estate.

A 2007 national survey by one national legal staffing service reflected significance associated with an international specialty. In the corporate sector, international law took was the highest-paying specialty ($77,000), followed by mergers and acquisitions ($70,278), labor ($67,100), litigation ($62,223) and securities ($62,029). The same survey reported that for paralegals employed in a law firm setting, the highest-paying specialty was tax law ($67,500), followed by intellectual property ($67,300), securities ($65,200), corporation and enterprise ($61,413), and commercial law ($57,842).

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