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What Is a Paralegal? Salary and More

Written by: East Carolina University®   •  Jun 4, 2024

A Paralegal Meeting With a Legal Team in a Conference Room.

What Is a Paralegal? Salary and More

Becoming a paralegal is an exciting way to enter the legal field and make a significant impact on cases,  clients, and legal teams. Many of these professionals use their education and on-the-job experience to excel in paralegal roles for the span of their careers, while others choose to go to law school and become lawyers.

There are several pathways to becoming a paralegal and earning a rewarding paralegal salary. While some paralegals enter the field through associate degree or certificate programs, others enter with a bachelor’s degree, such as a bachelor’s in criminal justice or paralegal studies, as this is what many employers prefer. Earning a bachelor’s degree can help a paralegal gain legal expertise and develop specialized skills in areas such as criminal or family law.

What Does a Paralegal Do?


As important legal team members, paralegals assist attorneys with case processing, client relations, research, and documentation tasks. Depending on the size of the law firm or organization, paralegals can also manage clerical and administrative tasks.

Though paralegals can’t practice law—that is, they can’t advise clients, represent clients in court, or sign legal documents—they greatly support lawyers as they handle their cases. Their support helps free up some of the lawyers’ time and allows firms to bill clients at lower rates. A paralegal’s work informs the lawyer’s work in areas including strategic decision-making; client guidance; and court presentations, such as written motions and live trials. 

Paralegal Responsibilities

Within larger firms and organizations, paralegals mainly work on legal matters and may even specialize in a particular area of the law. Generally, paralegals carry out the following legal duties:

  • Drafting, developing, and preparing legal documents

  • Conducting legal research

  • Examining the details or evidence in a case

  • Gathering clients’ statements and taking notes during client meetings

  • Helping lawyers prepare for a trial or hearing

  • Accompanying lawyers to court to provide clerical support

In smaller firms or groups, a paralegal may take on administrative and clerical duties, such as:

  • Maintaining a filing system

  • Organizing and managing the physical and digital files of each case

  • Corresponding with other law groups and clients

  • Scheduling meetings with clients

  • Running the administration of the office

Work Settings for Paralegals

Paralegals often work for law firms (big or small), legal departments of large corporations, nonprofit organizations, or government entities. They may also work in a specific type of law office depending on their area of specialization.

Paralegal specialties can include the following:

  • Corporate law

  • Criminal defense or prosecution

  • Immigration

  • Intellectual property

  • Personal injury

  • Real estate

The role of paralegal can open doors to many career possibilities in the legal field. For a paralegal looking to specialize in criminal defense or prosecution, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice could be a stepping stone to a career in the field. This type of paralegal may seek to work at a criminal defense law firm or a government agency, such as a district attorney’s office.

Paralegal Salary and Job Outlook

The median annual paralegal salary was $60,970 as of May 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The profession is expected to grow at a rate of 4% between 2022 and 2032, or about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is largely due to the demand for legal documentation and support services at corporations and law firms remaining strong in the coming decade.

How to Become a Paralegal


One pathway to becoming a paralegal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a specialized field related to law. Completing an associate degree or certificate program can also lead to a paralegal career, but many employers prefer to see a four-year degree, such as a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice , paralegal studies, social science, or business.

After completing an education program, aspiring paralegals can apply for the optional Certified Paralegal (CP) credential from NALA - The Paralegal Association. This certification, which requires passing a certification exam, lets potential employers know that a candidate meets professional industry standards.

Through their degree program and early on-the-job experience, aspiring paralegals should develop essential skills and knowledge in areas including the following:

  • Clear and concise written and oral communication

  • Attention to detail

  • Legal knowledge

  • Critical thinking and analysis

  • Time management and organization

  • Legal research and evidence gathering

  • Knowledge in a specific field, such as immigration law

Launch a Paralegal Career With an Online Criminal Justice Degree


Paralegals play an important role in criminal justice proceedings, helping lawyers win trials and allowing clients to resolve their cases. If you’re passionate about criminal justice and want to make an impact in the legal field, and if you’re looking to earn a salary that rewards hard work, a paralegal career might be the right fit for you.

Start your journey toward a career as a paralegal with the online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree completion program at East Carolina University®️. This dynamic, hands-on degree program teaches students the real-world aspects of the criminal justice system while instilling the skills needed to cultivate a safer and stronger society. Explore our program and discover how it can help you meet your professional goals.


American Bar Association, Current ABA Definition of Paralegal

Indeed, Paralegal vs. Legal Assistant: What’s the Difference?

Indeed, “What Is a Paralegal? (Plus Duties, Salary and Skills)”

NALA - The Paralegal Association, Certification  

U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Paralegals and Legal Assistants

U.S. News & World Report, “What Does a Paralegal Do?”