What You Don’t Know About the Paralegal Job Market

The 10 Hottest Job Market Questions

By Chere B. Estrin

Whether you are looking for a new position, seeking to move up the ladder or just staying where you are, knowledge of the job market is imperative in this ever-changing, moving target, candidate tight market.  Here are the top 9 concerns, questions, and hottest topics for today’s job market

The Goldman Sachs white paper states that 44% of all legal jobs will be replaced by AI and that it will virtually wipe out the paralegal role. Is that possible?

What’s possible is that your job will change. Technology always changes jobs and lawyers are always slow to move but this is definitely a game-changer. I am reminded of the travel agent position that went by the wayside when the internet came in. Will this happen to paralegals?

It depends on what you do to protect your career. AI can prepare pleadings, summaries, and more. However, it cannot organize exhibits, prepare 706’s, put closing binders together, file UCC’s, attend closings or trials, file state and federal filings, hand hold clients, interview witnesses, accurately fact-find, set up a war room, attend a merger & acquisition, take notes at depositions, research Lexis/Nexis or cite-check accurately and more. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking AI is not going to affect your career! What is going to happen is job shifting. The paralegal position will begin to look different. Paralegals will be given more sophisticated assignments while delegating downward those assignments that can be accomplished with AI. Right now, AI isn’t exactly the best thing going. Recently, an attorney submitted a pleading with cases AI quoted that did not exist. That was all over the news. What it says to me is the attorney obviously did not check the cites, however, the very fact AI gave phony cites is frightening. 

AI can automate certain aspects of paralegal work but the value of human expertise, nuanced decision-making, and interpersonal skills that paralegals bring to the legal profession, cannot be fully replicated by AI.

AI can automate certain tasks, streamline processes, and enhance productivity, but it cannot replace the critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and expertise that paralegals possess. By embracing AI as a valuable tool and continuously refining skill sets, paralegals can thrive in a rapidly evolving legal landscape.

What’s the job market like right now?

This is still the tightest candidate market in 30 years. The overall unemployment rate is down to 3.9% as of this writing. What that means is that there are 4 or 5 jobs available for every candidate. Even tighter, is the legal market. Depending on what day it is, the unemployment rate in the legal field is down to 1.9%. The good candidates go quickly, sometimes as fast as in 10 days. However, while big law firms are laying off due to overstaffing from the pandemic, the most active firms hiring today are in the mid-size, boutique and personal injury firms.

Lately, I have noticed a slowdown in the time law firms take to interview and select candidates. This often causes firms to lose good candidates as candidates do not wait to be called. One firm that continuously failed to get back to us when we submitted resumes, actually said, “If we lose ‘em, we lose ‘em”. Holy, moly. Now there’s a firm I want to avoid! Talk about a commodity attitude……

Really, what does the paralegal field look like today?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and on what day you read current information, estimates of the number of paralegals is anywhere from 300,000 to 353,000 in the U.S. Bear in mind, there are many paralegals who are most likely not counted as they perform paralegal work but do not have the title of paralegal. Here are the recent statistics:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 345,000 paralegals currently employed in the United States. (Zippia.com)

  • 77.6% of all paralegals are women, while 22.4% are men
  • The average age of an employed paralegal is 45 years old. 
  • The most common ethnicity of paralegals is White (59.6%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (20.2%), Black or African American (9.2%) and Asian (5.7%). 
  • Paralegals are most in-demand in New York, NY. 
  • About 45,800 openings for paralegals and legal assistants are projected each year, on average, over the decade.
  • 9% of all paralegals are LGBT.

Are women paid equally?

I hate to break this startling news but the answer is NO. Depending on which survey you read, women paralegals make less than men -$.87-$.97 on the dollar. Are you serious???? This is the legal field. People should know better. Where is the equity? This wage gap has widened 5 cents from 2011. Don’t forget that 77.6% of all paralegals are women. Amazing, in this day and age. Women: it’s time to stand up! 

Really, What are the hottest specialties for paralegals in 2023? does the paralegal field look like today?

There are brand new areas for paralegals. As of this writing, according to Clio, the main areas of law that are growing are: cybersecurity, cannabis, labor, elder law, energy, IP, health, and student loan law. Another interesting area: drones.

Six legal practices growing in excess of 10%

  • Cybersecurity weighs in at 15% growth
  • M&A and private equity will grow 15%
  • Class actions are growing in excess of 10%
  • Most large banks handling PPP (Paycheck protection programs) or CARES Act funds (A $2 trillion economic fund regarding COVID) are opening investigations — and almost any large nonbank lender issuing PPP funds can expect an investigation — which will likely be settled quickly.
  • Tax practices will grow as M&A picks up, and as companies look to save taxes and plan for potential changes in the tax law. 
  • In Texas, the paralegal field is expected to grow at a rate of 26%, between 2018 and 2028, almost seven times faster than the average growth rate for all occupations nationwide.

(Insights are based on more than 240 in-depth telephone interviews conducted by The BTI Consulting Group with top legal decision-makers at companies with $750 million in revenue or more, after the pandemic started.

Where are the highest paying paralegal jobs?

Honestly, if I could just find surveys that match, I would strike it rich. Here are some approximations. All of these depend on the region where you live. For example, one survey says San Francisco is the highest paying, another says Washington, D.C. (which has not been my experience).

Here is one survey:

  • Highest paid state:
    The highest-paid state for paralegals is California with an average salary of $61,386 per year.
  • What city pays paralegals the most?
  • San Francisco pays paralegals the most with an average salary of $69,365 per year.
  • What is the worst state for paralegals?
    The worst state for paralegals is South Carolina with an average salary of $36,908 per year. (Compiled by Zippia)
  • Difference in salaries between Orange County and Los Angeles:
    Surveys say the average Paralegal  salary in Los Angeles, CA is $74,200 as of May 01, 2023, but the range typically falls between $65,822 and $83,944. (Salary.com) However, we are finding Sr. Paralegals are getting anywhere from $100,000 – $120,000 plus bonus.

Right down the street, about 45 miles from L.A., is Orange County – you know, Newport Beach, Mercedes, million-dollar houses, yachts – The average salary for a Paralegal in Orange County, CA is between $65,562 and $131,960 as of May 25, 2023. (Salary.com)

  • The average Litigation Paralegal salary in Orange, CA is $71,511 as of May 25, 2023, but the salary range typically falls between $63,438 and $80,905. (Salary.com)
  • What about contract paralegals?

Typical salary for a Contract Paralegal job is above the national average. Topping the list is Berkeley, CA, with Merced, CA and Daly City, CA close behind in the second and third positions. Daly City, CA beats the national average by $16,726 (21.7%), and Berkeley, CA furthers that trend with another $19,943 (25.9%) above the $77,122 average.

What does the physical workplace look like for paralegals?

Right now, the most popular job is hybrid. Typically, firms were giving 3 days in the office and 2 days at home. However, recently, law firms want paralegals and staff back in the office. Since it is a candidate driven market, there is tremendous pushback from candidates. Lately, firms are averaging 4 days in the office, 1 day at home.

The remote position? Practically gone. If you are holding out for a 100% remote position, you may be looking a long, long time. Hybrid Is in. Remote is out.

Hybrid work has become the default Goldilocks solution — a widely adopted middle ground. According to a survey conducted this year by Aon PLC, of U.S. Am Law 200 firms, approximately 80% of firms expect all or most of their workforce to be eligible for a hybrid work arrangement.

What soft skills are employers looking for today?

Being an ace at cite-checking, brief writing or research is no longer enough. Today, employers are also seeking soft skills including:

  • Observational skills
  • A good memory
  • Writing ability
  • Empathy and teamwork
  • Critical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Multi-tasking
  • Excellent personality, likeable

Where is the paralegal field headed?

U.S. News & World Report says that paralegals rank #8 in Best Social Services Jobs and #65/100 in Best Jobs. Chere Estrin’s predictions:

  • Limit on billable hours: No longer will paralegals be expected to bill as many hours as lawyers. I guess paralegals found out they are never going to make partner, no matter how many hours they work.  The average billable hours expected in major firms runs between 1650 – 1800 and that is the minimum of what you are expected to hit. Good bonuses, raises, and reviews are given for those far exceeding those goals. 
  • Hiring criteria will be skill-based, not based on number of years in the field. I have been saying this for a long time: A 10- year paralegal can be performing at the 2- year level and a 2- year level can be performing at the 10-year level. In the future, firms are going to hire based on how good your skills are.
  • The temp market will expand. Many of the largest law firms are looking for new ways to assist clients. Big law firms have a reputation for being expensive. To combat this, they are attempting to be part of the eleven billion dollar industry known as the new law. Part of this process means being able to hire lawyers and paralegals on a contract basis resulting in lower overhead.
  • More states will take the route of California: California now requires paralegals to have a BA degree and paralegal certificate plus they must take 4 hours of CLE every year. This program is working well and it appears that quality of work has gone up. 
  • More paralegals will move up a new corporate ladder. Law firms will see more value in the skills and talent of paralegals. Right now, many firms believe that a “paralegal is a paralegal is a paralegal’ meaning, no upward growth. That is all going to change as paralegals demonstrate unique talents, abilities and desire to grow or frankly, they will walk.
  • More work/life balance: Right now, many firms are talking the talk but not walking the walk. Instead of calling the environment, “work/lifestyle balance”, they are saying, “family-friendly”. Hmmmm…….can you say, “shooting a curve”? As long as the candidate market remains this tight, firms are not going to have too much of a choice except to change when trying to capture new talent. 

If you have any input or see new trends, please contact me at Chere@EstrinLegalStaffing.com. I would love to hear what you have to say. 

EstrinLegalStaffing.com. I would love to hear what you have to say. 

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top nationwide staffing organization with a five-star Google Business Review rating.  She has been a well-known name in the field for over 20 years. She was recently interviewed by The Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine (www.estrinreport.com) and was named “One of the Top Women Leaders in Los Angeles” She has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. She received the prestigious Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and was a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. Chere is a founder of the well-known nationwide Paralegal SuperConferences and a co-founding member of IPMA (International Practice Management Association).. She gives numerous webinars including those for Lawline and LawPractice. She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 200 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. Reach out at: chere@estrinlegalstaffing.com or visit her website at www.EstrinLegalStaffing.com.

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