How to Become a Paralegal: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


Paralegals are skilled non-lawyers who support lawyers in their practice. Some paralegal work is relatively routine, like organizing documents and maintaining databases, as well as keeping lawyers organized in court. In some practices, however, paralegals do much more—from interacting with clients and conducting investigations, to preparing first drafts of letters and contracts. They may also conduct legal or other research. A thorough working knowledge of the law, strong organization, and careful attention to detail are the key skills of an aspiring paralegal.


Annual salaries for paralegals will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for paralegals working in the U.S. was $51,170 per year.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for paralegals, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work as a Paralegal

California leads the nation in employment for paralegals, where 29,720 earn an annual average salary of $60,060. Florida is second, with 24,360 paralegals making an average salary of $47,820.

The metro areas employing the most paralegals are:

  • New York-White Plains (16,790)
  • Washington D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria (10,540)
  • Chicago-Joliet (10,470)

The metro areas employing the highest concentration of paralegals are:

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL (5.09 jobs per thousand)
  • Charleston, WV (5.03 jobs per thousand)

The metro areas employing the best-paid paralegals are:

  • San Francisco (average annual salary $70,700)
  • New Bedford, MA (average annual salary $69.940)

Employment and Salary Information for Paralegals

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as a paralegal. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Employment and Information Data for Paralegal Assistant

Why Become A Paralegal?

Paralegals are people who get things done for their clients in the legal world. There are plenty of good reasons to want to become a paralegal:

  • Go to court. Although it’s not all paralegals do, they do go to court and play a vital part in presenting a client’s case.
  • Learn how the legal system really works. Everyone has seen lawyers on TV, but as a paralegal you’ll see how the system really works—and become an expert on the system. And getting involved in cases or transactions is interesting.
  • Pays well. The average wage in 2013 was $51,170 per year.

Paralegal: What You Need To Know

Paralegals don’t have the detailed knowledge of the law as attorneys do, but many of the key practical skills are identical between lawyers and paralegals: it’s about writing well, attention to detail, and being good with clients. A working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates.

  • Understanding of Law
  • Organization
  • Research Skills
  • Written Communication
  • Client Management
  • Attention to Detail

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about paralegal careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for Paralegal Careers


While there are no specific qualifications to be a paralegal, employers expect paralegals to have an education that prepares them for the job.  Some schools offer students certification programs which can be completed in as little as three months to a year, enabling those with an interest in being a paralegal to find an entry-level position fairly quickly. A certificate might also be useful for a candidate who has a degree in a different field.

Associate’s degree

Associate’s degrees in paralegal studies train you specifically to work as a paralegal, and are offered by community colleges and professional schools. Associate’s degrees generally take around two years.

Bachelor’s degree

There are a number of community colleges, professional schools, colleges, and universities which offer bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies. Bachelor’s degrees usually take four years to complete. Programs commonly cover topics such as legal research, the legal applications of computers, and legal ethics and standards.

Others enter paralegal work with a bachelor’s degree in another subject, often an arts or humanities subject, by obtaining on-the-job training from an employer.