California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Paralegals and Legal Assistants* in San Diego County

May also be called: Legal Investigators; Judicial Assistants; Probate Paralegals; Real Estate Paralegals; Law Clerks; Court Clerks; and Attorney Assistants.

Specialties within this occupation include: Legal Document Assistants

What Would I Do?

Paralegals grew out of the desire to improve the efficiency and cost of delivering legal services. They help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and corporate meetings. They research facts of cases, laws, judicial decisions, legal articles, and other materials relevant to their cases.

Paralegals’ duties differ with the type and size of organization they work for. Because law has become more complex, many Paralegals have become specialized. They can work in many different areas of law such as personal injury, lawsuits, corporate law, criminal law, intellectual property, labor law, bankruptcy, immigration, family law, and real estate. They may further break down their specialty such as a labor law Paralegal who may concentrate on employee benefits.

Paralegals who work for corporations often assist with contracts, shareholder agreements, stock-option plans, employee benefit plans, financial reports, and documents for loan applications. They often monitor new government regulations to ensure the corporation is operating within the law. Increasingly, experienced Paralegals take on additional supervisory roles such as overseeing team projects.

Paralegals employed in community legal service projects help the poor, aged, and others in need of legal service aid. They may file forms, conduct research and prepare documents, and represent clients at administrative hearings when authorized by statute.

Paralegals use computers, scanners, and optical character recognition equipment. They generally work with word processing, information search, spreadsheet, legal, desktop publishing, and possibly specialized database (i.e. trademark) software.

Legal Document Assistants are registered and bonded by the county in which they do business. These Assistants accurately prepare legal documents for clients as specified by their clients. They are not allowed to give explanations or use their own judgment in filling out the forms. They can file the documents in the appropriate courts. They can also distribute legal materials approved or prepared by a lawyer, such as a preprinted instruction sheet that specifies what forms are needed for the service.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Prepare legal documents, including briefs, pleadings, appeals, wills, contracts, and real estate closing statements.Reading Comprehension
Prepare affidavits or other documents, maintain document file, and file pleadings with court clerk.Clerical
Gather and analyze research data, such as statutes, decisions, and legal articles, codes, and documents.Law and Government
Investigate facts and law of cases to determine causes of action and to prepare cases.Inductive Reasoning
Call upon witnesses to testify at hearing.Active Listening
Direct and coordinate law office activity, including delivery of subpoenas.Administration and Management
Keep and monitor legal volumes to ensure that law library is up-to-date.English Language
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Most Paralegals often sit for hours at desks in law offices and law libraries where they use computers to complete their assignments. They usually work a standard 40-hour week but some work part time or seasonally. However, to meet the high demands in the workforce, some will work an additional 10 to 20 hours a week traveling to other business locations gathering information or submitting documents. Those who work for law firms sometimes work extended hours to meet deadlines. Overtime is usually compensated for or offset by additional time off. Inexperienced Paralegals start out handling routine assignments. As they gain experience, Paralegals usually assume more responsibility and varied tasks.

There is currently little or no unionization of Paralegals.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Paralegal will appeal to those who like to start up and carry out projects. The Paralegal occupation satisfies those with enterprising interests which may include leading people and making many decisions. Those who may find Paralegal duties interesting also enjoy working with ideas and researching information.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Paralegals and Legal Assistants* in California is $57,441 annually, or $27.61 hourly. The median wage for Paralegals and Legal Assistants* in San Diego County is $58,830 annually, or $28.28 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$42,142$57,441$74,799
San Diego County$39,271$58,830$73,764
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits for Paralegals usually include vacation, holiday, sick leave, medical, dental, life insurance and retirement plans. Many law firms pay bonuses based on seniority or merit, or a combination of both.

The earnings for paralegals who are self-employed depend upon the type of assignments completed and do not include benefits and retirement.

What Do Local Employers Say About Benefits?  Of the 24 employers in San Diego County, all provide medical insurance, and almost all provide dental insurance and life insurance benefits to Paralegals and Legal Assistants* who work full-time.

Percent of Employers Who Provide
Specific Benefits by Time Base
Benefit TypeFull-TimePart-Time
Medical Insurance100%21%
Dental Insurance92%12%
Life Insurance83%17%
Vacation79%17%
Retirement Plan79%25%
Sick Leave79%17%
Disability Insurance54%12%
Vision Insurance50%8%
Paid Time Off Bank29%12%
No benefits0%12%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

Of the 24 employers surveyed who responded in San Diego County, who provides medical benefits, almost all reported that they pay half or more of the cost of medical insurance for full-time, and all reported that they pay half or more of the cost of medical insurance for part-time Paralegals and Legal Assistants*.

Percent of Employers Who Paid Medical
Insurance by Portion Paid by Time Base
Portion Paid by Employer:Full-TimePart-Time
All33%40%
Half or more58%60%
Less than Half8%0%
None0%0%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

What is the Job Outlook?

Demand for Paralegals will continue to grow as employers try to reduce costs by hiring Paralegals to perform tasks formerly carried out by lawyers. Paralegals are an option to increase availability and efficiency of legal services. Contributing to the expanded use of Paralegals is the increasing demand for legal services by a growing population.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Paralegals and Legal Assistants* is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Paralegals and Legal Assistants* are expected to increase by 17.7 percent, or 5,300 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

In San Diego County, the number of Paralegals and Legal Assistants* is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Paralegals and Legal Assistants* are expected to increase by 29.8 percent, or 980 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Paralegals and Legal Assistants*
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
30,00035,3005,30017.74,900
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
3,2904,27098029.8530
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 530 new job openings per year is expected for Paralegals and Legal Assistants*, plus an additional 490 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 1,020 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 99 new job openings per year is expected for Paralegals and Legal Assistants*, plus an additional 53 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 152 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Paralegals and Legal Assistants*
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
5304901,020
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
9953152
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Some employers train legal secretaries or other staff for paralegal positions. Increasingly, employers prefer Paralegals who are college graduates of paralegal programs or college graduates who have completed paralegal certificate programs.

Experience

Many employers want a Paralegal who has experience in a particular specialty, such as patent prosecution, real estate, tax preparation, nursing, or criminal justice. Some will hire those with no legal experience but experience in a technical field useful to the law firm such as tax preparation, estate practice, nursing, criminal justice, or health administration (for personal injury practice).

Early Career Planning

Students interested in a paralegal career should take college entrance classes. Some courses helpful for this occupation include government, social studies, English, speech, computers, business, and history. High school also provides opportunities to gain valuable experience by participating in student government, on the debate team, and in publication of the school newspaper.

Work Study Programs

California offers Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) for Careers in Paralegal. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Paralegals are required to complete continuing legal education courses that are approved by the State Bar of California. They must complete four hours of continuing education in legal ethics every three years. They also must complete four hours of continued education in either general law or an area of specialized law every two years. Holders of certificates need to meet additional continuing education requirements to maintain their certification.

The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CP/CLA) credential, a five-year renewable certification requiring 50 hours of approved continuing legal education credits. The NALA also offers Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC), a five-year renewable certification requiring 70 hours of approved continuing legal education credits for certain specialties.

The NALS…the association for legal professionals (NALS) offers a five-year renewable Professional Paralegal certification and an advanced five-year PLS® certification for legal professionals. To qualify for either recertification, applicants much receive 75 hours of continuing legal education credits.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) offers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam. The two-year Registered Paralegal (RP) certification requires 12 hours of continuing legal or specialty education to renew.

Certification

The NALA offers the Certified Paralegal/Certified Legal Assistant (CP/CLA) credential and the Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC) in certain specialty areas. The NALS offers the Professional Paralegal certification and an advanced PLS® certification for legal professionals. The NFPA offers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam. Passing this exam allows the use of the Registered Paralegal (RP) designation.

All certifications have education and experience criteria to qualify to take the initial exam. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Most Paralegals work in legal offices. The largest industries in this occupation are as follows: The largest industries employing Paralegals and Legal Assistants* are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Legal Services 67.4%
Local Government 15.3%
Federal Government 3.3%
Management of Companies and Enterprises 2.2%
Employment Services 1.2%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

What Employers Say...

The Employment Development Department surveyed 24 employers in San Diego County which employ 227 Paralegals and Legal Assistants*. Here's what they had to say:

About Full-Time/Part-Time: All of these firms employ full-time and many employ part-time Paralegals and Legal Assistants*.

About Work Experience:  Of the 24 employers surveyed in San Diego County, all require new hires to have prior work experience as Paralegals and Legal Assistants*. In the table below, percentages may not add to 100% since employers may select more than one time period.

How Much Work Experience
Do Employers Require?
More than 5 years 0%
25 to 60 months 57%
13 to 24 months 13%
1 to 12 months 35%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

About Recruitment:  Of the 24 employers surveyed in San Diego County, many indicate it is moderately difficult to find applicants with experience who meet their minimum hiring requirements, while many indicate it is easy to find applicants without previous experience who meet their minimum hiring requirements to fill vacancies for Paralegals and Legal Assistants*.

About Hiring:  Of the 24 employers surveyed in San Diego County, almost all expect the number of Paralegals and Legal Assistants* they employ to remain stable during the coming year.

Hiring Expectations
Expect Employment to Increase 4%
Expect Employment to Remain Stable 96%
Expect Employment to Decline 0%
Source: EDD/LMID Local Occupational Information Survey.

About Vacancies:  Of the 24 employers surveyed in San Diego County, 50 percent hired Paralegals and Legal Assistants* during the past year. Of the hiring firms, 83 percent filled existing vacancies, 42 percent filled newly created positions, and 25 percent filled temporary assignments.

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Paralegals can also register with their school placement center for job leads. The paralegal associations and Internet list job opportunities as well. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Paralegals and Legal Assistants*.

  • Law Firms
  • Attorneys
  • General Practice Attorneys
  • Government Agencies

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

As Paralegals gain experience, they assume more responsibilities such as supervision, or training. In larger firms, they may promote to managerial and other law-related positions within the firm or accept a higher position in another company. Some attend law school and become lawyers. Others open their own paralegal firms or may subcontract out for legal services.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Paralegals and Legal Assistants* with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification23-2011
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Paralegals and Legal Assistants23-2011.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)CIE
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Legal Assistant/Paralegal 220302
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Paralegal140200