Paralegals and Secretaries - An Exploration of Earnings

Laura McDonald
September 25, 2008 — 1,724 views  
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Income for paralegals and legal assistants varies, depending on education and training, work experience, geographic location, and the employer by size and type. Typically, paralegals working for large metropolitan law firms earn more in salary and benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor in May 2004, "full-time wage and salary paralegals and legal assistants had median annual earnings, including bonuses, of $39,130. The middle 50 percent earned between $31,040 and $49,950. The top 10 percent earned more than $61,390, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $25,360." In addition to their salary, many paralegals receive bonuses. It is unclear whether bonus reporting was included in the statistics; if not, those earnings would rise even higher.

Continuing with the Department of Labor statistics: "Median annual earnings of legal secretaries were $36,720 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,070 and $46,390. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $56,590."

Thus, by comparison, paralegals have greater opportunity to earn a higher salary than legal secretaries.

Do legal secretaries earn approximately the same as other types of secretaries? No, it is higher. Referring back to Department of Labor compilations: "Medical secretaries earned a median annual salary of $26,540 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $21,980 and $32,690. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,140, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,140. Median annual earnings of secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive, were $26,110 in May 2004."

Let's compare the median annual salaries.

Paralegals - $31,040 to $49,950 Legal Secretaries - $29,070 to $46,390 Medical Secretaries - $21,980 to $32,690 Secretaries (Except Legal, Medical and Executive) - $26,110

Which type of position is more attractive based on salary?

It is highly advisable for young people to earn college educations. Competition for jobs is fierce, and particularly with current technological advances, higher education is just plain required to land career jobs. Players in the game of Life who go straight to work rather than the college route, in reality, may wind up with dead-end jobs and victims of the saying, "he worked until the day he died."

With paralegal salaries registering at a higher rung than the other office positions, it is reasonable that legal assistants would more than likely require the most education and training. Employers hiring any of the above positions may consider candidates with general course work, but specialized training would naturally be given greater consideration. Specialized training suggests a new hire will pick up the work ball already running. This may also be less costly to the employer during in-house training.

Explore your opportunities for higher education, and consider a career as a paralegal. Salaries are good. The work is interesting. With advancement potential, a paralegal career is an excellent choice. Is it the right one for you?

Are you fascinated by trials? Do you like helping people? A career as a Paralegal is challenging, rewarding, and NEVER boring. Sign up for free newsletters that show you how to step into this exciting career. Adventures await you....

Laura McDonald is a paralegal. She is a member of NFPA (National Federation of Paralegal Associations). Laura is experienced in the areas of personal injury, civil litigation, family, environmental and corporate law, estate planning and bankruptcy. She works for Michael L. Hawkins & Associates, P.L.L.C., located in Frankfort, Kentucky. The firm's website is

Laura McDonald