The Complete Guide to Paralegal Demographics
Paralegals and legal assistants are part of the legal sector, just like judicial law clerks, lawyers, judges, magistrates, and others. Paralegals work in various areas of legal practice, from trial practice litigation and litigation for real estate transactions to tax and estate planning.
The paralegal profession began to develop in the late 1960s when law firms and individual practitioners pursued ways to improve the efficiency and cost-effective delivery of legal services. Using paralegals in a law firm substantially decreases client costs and frees up hours of attorney time.
Paralegals and legal assistants represent 22.2% of the Legal Industry and make up the second largest share of employment in legal services by occupations followed by lawyers, judges, and magistrates (43.9%).
Join us below for a brief overview of Paralegal demographics in the United States, revealing insights into demographic changes in the legal industry.
The Paralegal Degree Recipients
Interesting to know
Paralegal education started in 1968. By 1971, there were eleven paralegal programs in the U.S. Currently, there are approximately 650 programs across the country.
Although you are not technically required to have a degree to work as a paralegal, it would be an asset given the highly competitive nature of the career path. To quickly familiarize yourself with the profession, we suggest starting with an entry point if you plan to pursue the career path of a paralegal. Let’s compare the share of universities that offer Paralegal programs by the total number of graduates.
Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) suggests that the top three institutions to award a legal degree in 2020 in the U. S. were:
- Liberty University
- Center for Advanced Legal Studies
- National Paralegal College
If you are interested in more in-depth data, the following graph illustrates the share of universities that offer Paralegal programs. The data goes through the total number of completions, colored and grouped by sector.
The Gender Imbalance Among Graduates of Common Institutions
MOST COMMON SEX WITH A DEGREE IN THIS FIELD
Over the past decade, the percentage of female paralegal degree recipients has dominated over male recipients. This trend hasn’t changed among institutions that graduate the most students with a Paralegal degree.
Ethnic Minorities Among Paralegal Graduates
Nearly all people of color in the U. S., specifically Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American, and mixed race, are underrepresented in the paralegal profession, compared to White students, who still earn the largest share of paralegal degrees.
MOST COMMON RACE OR ETHNICITY
- White (5,239 degrees awarded)
- Hispanic or Latino (1,886 degrees awarded)
- Non-resident Alien (1,426 degrees awarded)
The following graph shows the number of Paralegal degrees awarded by race and ethnicity.
Race and Ethnicity of Paralegal Graduates by Sex
The percentage of legal graduates consisting of men and women of color rose slowly over the past decade. White female students, who earn the highest number of degrees in this field, are still the most common combination of race/ethnicity and vastly outnumber Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American, and mixed race graduates.
The chart below represents the differences by sex for each race and ethnicity of degree recipients in Paralegal.
Must-Have Paralegal Skills
Assuming you are interested in pursuing a career as a paralegal, what skills do you need to succeed and have a competitive advantage among your peers?
Paralegals and legal assistants need many skills, especially Reading Comprehension, Active Listening, and Writing. We have assembled data on the critical and distinctive skills necessary for Paralegals and legal assistants from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The revealed comparative advantage (RCA) shows that Paralegals and legal assistants need more than the average level of Writing, Reading Comprehension, and Active Listening.
Paralegal Industry Walkthrough
Now that we’ve discovered some interesting facts about gender and race among paralegal degree recipients, let’s go over the employment and demographics of U. S. professionals in the paralegal services industry.
The paralegal occupation is dominated by female workers — 83.3% of paralegals and legal assistants are women. The median age of paralegals and legal assistants is 43. Male employees are typically 5.3 years younger than their female counterparts.
Age by Sex
AVERAGE MALE AGE: 38.5
AVERAGE FEMALE AGE: 43.8
Composition by Sex
MALE WORKFORCE: 63.8k
FEMALE WORKFORCE: 356k
The following graphs show a breakdown of paralegals and legal assistants by age and sex.
Let’s examine the annual wage rates and the highest-paying locations.
As of 2020, paralegals and legal assistants earned an average of $53,306 — $2,648 less than the average national salary of $55,954.
AVERAGE SALARY: $53,306
The chart below illustrates various occupations closest to paralegals and legal assistants as measured by the average annual salary in the U. S.
Wage by Location
The map below displays the Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs) in the United States colored by the average annual compensation for paralegals and legal assistants.
Industry Growth Projection
The data on employment growth for paralegals and legal assistants from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that this occupation is anticipated to grow by more than the nationwide average. The 10-year national workforce is projected to grow by 3.71%, but paralegals and legal assistants are expected to see a growth of 10.4% over the same period.
ESTIMATED JOB GROWTH: 10.4%
NATIONAL GROWTH: 3.71%
We are used to pop culture portraying paralegals as heroes in “Suits” — neat, passionate, and career-centric. In other words, young and ambitious professionals that are used to dealing with legal cases on the frontline of mid-sized and big law firms. In the series, we see them making their way to becoming certified and starting their own practices, giving legal advice, and probably becoming a partner at a well-established law firm in the future.
The truth is that a paralegal is a highly-valued member of a legal organization due to their extensive knowledge of the law and legal matters. With more than 420k people working as paralegals in the U. S., here’s a simple yet concise opinion from one of them, describing what being a paralegal truly is:
”I wish I knew when I first started that there’s something really awesome and spectacular in being a behind-the-scenes person. Each case is a story and I have a part to play in finding out the truth without being really inside it, the way attorneys are. I can (and will) walk away once I’ve given my heart and soul into this line of work because I know that the lessons I’ve learned are so much more than knowing how long in advance I should file a motion or how organized the client documents should be. The people I work with are awesome, complicated, messy, and annoying, but they are some of the most brilliant and insightful people I will ever meet.”
The data presented in this material comes from open-source directories.
It would be impossible to conduct this research without the resources mentioned below, so I encourage you to visit them if you are interested in a more in-depth analysis of national and industry-specific occupational employment:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making.
The Census Bureau – the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.
The Data USA team consists of economists, data scientists, designers, researchers, and business executives, who work with input from policymakers, government officials, and everyday citizens to develop Data USA, the most comprehensive website and visualization engine for public US Government data.
The American Bar Association – The ABA is the largest voluntary professional association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.