A paralegal is also known as a legal assistant. They help attorneys and lawyers investigate cases, review records, and perform legal research. They may look up pertinent laws and verdicts, write reports for the lawyers to use in their cases, and keep track of important documents related to the case. They can make copies, write letters, make phone calls and basically perform whatever tasks are asked of them by the legal team.
Most paralegals attend a community college and obtain a two-year degree. Other colleges offer advanced degrees in legal studies. A few companies will train legal staff to become paralegals while on the job.
Earnings for paralegals vary greatly. A national study in May 2008 revealed the average yearly wage for a full time paralegal was $48,790. Several factors are important in determining the pay scale however. The area of the country is a major factor. States on either coast pay more for paralegal services than do central states such as Nebraska, Colorado, and Wisconsin. In a study recently updated in November 2010, Palo Alto, California was the highest paying city with wages ranging from $53,000 to $82,000. Second in line was San Jose, California paying anywhere from $46,000 to $73,000. Los Angeles was third on the list. On the opposite side of the United States, Stamford, Connecticut was fourth paying $38,000 to $70,000.
Of course the amount of money a paralegal can make also depends on the size of the employer. A small town lawyer will not be able to pay his staff nearly as much as a large New York City law firm will. For paralegals hoping to make the most money possible, it would be best to look for a large well-known firm in a large city. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice pays their paralegals anywhere from $51,000 to $78,000. The popular Snell and Wilmer, the second largest firm in the United States and the largest in the state of Arizona, pays their paralegals anywhere from $48,000 to $54,000.
The area of law that a paralegal specializes in is another important factor. A paralegal specializing in corporations, business, and mergers makes more money averaging $37,000 to $56,000 in comparison to a family law paralegal who averages $31,000 to $46,000. Litigation and Appeals as well as Real Estate, Construction, and Land use are higher paying specialties in comparison to Personal Injury and Trusts and Estates which are on the lower end of the pay scale.
Other important factors determining specific pay ranges include years of experience and legal degrees. The longer one has been working as a paralegal will be credited with knowing more about their position and about what is expected of them. Similarly, having extra legal degrees such as a legal nurse or continuing education in the legal realm will be compensated higher than others without the experience or added degree.
When considering the salary that a specific company is offering, it is important to look at the entire benefit package rather than just the amount of pay. Some companies will pay health and dental benefits but may offer lower wages. Other law firms may require overtime but offer little compensation for it, whereas others may pay time and a half. Sick pay, holiday pay, vacation time, fringe benefits, and other perks are often overlooked but should be discussed so as to compare one job to another.
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