NALA, the National Association of Legal Assistants, just released its 2015 National Utilization/Compensation Survey of paralegals. Conducted every two years, the survey offers valuable insight into industry trends, including paralegal compensation, growing practice areas, and demographics of paralegals. This year's survey offers important information for paralegals who want to improve their skills and advance their careers.
1,069 paralegals took the latest NALA survey, which was conducted from November 2014 to January 2015. Of those who responded, 94% were female and 5% male. Sixty-four percent of respondents belonged to NALA, and 68% of respondents held a Certified Paralegal credential. The average age of respondents was 48.
On average, survey respondents had 20 years of experience in the industry and held 10 years of experience with a single employer. Seventy percent of paralegals reported that they worked in small law firms (1-15 attorneys) and 16% of respondents worked for corporations. Over 75% of respondents held a bachelor's or an associate's degree.
Respondents represented 47 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, with over half of respondents hailing from the Southeast and Southwest. The Rocky Mountains and New England regions each had only 4 percent.
Paralegal salary trends
The average salary was $55,188, with bonuses averaging out at $4,581. On average, paralegals who belonged to NALA earned just over $1,000 more than their counterparts who did not belong to the organization. Paralegals on the East and West coasts enjoyed the highest overall salaries, followed by those in the Rocky Mountains and Southwest.
Those with a Certified Paralegal (CP) certification earned nearly $5,000 more than paralegals who didn’t hold the certification. Paralegals with the Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) certification earned $66,051 on average, or nearly $12,000 more than their peers who did not hold this certification. As these numbers suggest, investing in certification definitely pays off for paralegals who are serious about the profession.
Paralegal profession trends
Over 20% of paralegals reported working late nearly every day, with an additional 23% working late hours about once a week. These numbers represent a slight decline from past reports, suggesting a better work-life balance for many paralegals (for more on work-life balance – check out this post).
The top 10 practice areas for paralegals were as follows: Civil Litigation, Corporate, Contracts, Real Estate, Administrative/Government/Public, Personal Injury, Insurance, Employment/Labor Law, Probate, and Commercial.
Other practice areas have reported a downward trend, with fewer paralegals finding work in these areas. It’s important for new paralegals to be aware of specializations where there are fewer job opportunities, so they can plan their career training accordingly.
Areas of the profession that have fewer paralegals now than they did 10 years ago include: Energy/Utility, Social Security, Securities/Antitrust, Immigration, Aviation, Native American/Tribal, Admiralty/Maritime, Entertainment, and Telecommunications.
In most firms, continuing education is not provided for paralegals. Employees who want to grow in their career must take the initiative in finding continuing education or learning new skills. Many paralegals take advantage of continuing legal ed seminars, local professional associations, and CP, ACP, or other certifications to learn new skills. Over 30% of survey respondents have changed practice areas or switched to a different work environment to advance their careers.
Did you take the NALA survey? What do you think of the survey's implications for the paralegal profession?
Lindsey Day is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience covering technology, small business, and legal topics.