Labor Paralegal Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
A paralegal's average annual salary is around $52,000, but is it worth the education and training requirements? Read about real job duties and get the truth about career outlook and salary to decide if becoming a labor paralegal is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Labor Paralegal

As a labor paralegal, you research and compile information for employee lawsuits, contract negotiations and policy reviews. Read the following pros and cons to help you determine if being a labor paralegal is the right career decision.

Pros of a Career as a Labor Paralegal
Above-average job growth (17% from 2012-2022)*
An associate's degree in the field is sufficient for some positions*
Training may be provided on the job if you have a bachelor's degree*
Satisfaction of work that helps clients get what they deserve under the law*

Cons of a Career as a Labor Paralegal
Overtime and long work hours could be required*
May perform some of the same tasks as lawyers for lower pay (on average, paralegals earn $81,000 less than lawyers per year)*
Highly competitive field*
Promotion opportunities can be limited without additional education**

Source(s): *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **I Have a Plan Iowa.

Essential Career Info

Job Duties and Description

Labor paralegals support attorneys who handle legal issues related to workplace safety, employment law and union contracts. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) defines the paralegal as a professional who assists a lawyer by preparing cases for trial, creating and completing documents for filing, transcribing interviews, performing research activities and completing other administrative support tasks. NALA also acknowledges that paralegals cannot accept cases, give legal advice or represent clients in court proceedings.

As a paralegal, you work under the guidance of a licensed attorney, but you might perform many tasks without immediate supervision. When case deadlines approach, you may be required to work overtime to get the work done. Paralegals are employed in many types of industries but are mostly found in government agencies, law firms and company legal departments.

Salary Info and Employment Growth

In an effort to rein in legal expenses, many companies are turning to paralegals to perform the work that high-priced attorneys once performed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted an 17% growth rate, which is above average, in the employment of paralegals and legal assistants during the 2012-2022 decade. The field will be competitive, and paralegals with formal training and some experience may find more career opportunities. The BLS estimated that the annual median wage of paralegals and legal assistants in the U.S. was around $48,000 as of May 2014. The lowest 10% earned about $30,000, while the top 10% received $77,000 or more.

Education Requirements and Skills Necessary

Generally, paralegals earn associate's or bachelor's degrees in paralegal studies. Paralegal certificate programs are also available to students holding unrelated bachelor's degrees and may take only a few months to complete. Undergraduate programs instruct students in the fundamentals of law, research, computer usage and various fields of legal practice. Students may also be required to participate in internships in order to receive hands-on legal experience. The BLS recommends that paralegals who want to specialize in a certain field of law, including labor and employment, should take courses in that field.

Paralegals perform large amounts of research and must be accurate and detail-oriented. Excellent writing skills are essential, and you should be self-motivated and able to work independently. Technology has changed the way research is conducted, and in addition to finding data in books, you need to be comfortable with finding information on the Internet and using current spreadsheet, database and word processing software.

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers are generally looking for candidates who have college degrees or parelegal certificates. Excellent communication and organizational skills are a necessity, and the ability to accurately and efficiently perform research tasks is required. Below are some actual job listings found in April 2012 that lay out the desires and requirements of employers:

  • A law firm in New Jersey is seeking a labor and employment law paralegal to perform document work in their labor and employment department. Qualifications include five years of experience and a paralegal certificate, bachelor's degree or associate's degree; ten or more years of experience may be substituted in lieu of a degree. Strong written and verbal communication skills are necessary and working knowledge of document management software - such as Concordance - is ideal.
  • A legal firm wants to hire a labor and employment paralegal to work in their Chicago office. A bachelor's degree or paralegal certificate and five years of law firm experience is required. Duties include creating documents, maintaining databases and researching labor topics. Candidates should also be personable and possess Microsoft Office skills.
  • A law firm in New York is looking for a highly organized labor and employment paralegal to maintain records and computer files, proofread briefs and prepare court filings and other documents. Candidates should have 3-5 years of experience and a bachelor's degree or paralegal certificate. Proficiency with Microsoft Office products is essential and experience dealing with class action lawsuits and wage issues is strongly desired.

How Can I Stand Out in the Field?

While credentialing beyond the initial paralegal certificate is not required, obtaining professional certification could help you stand out from the crowd. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers paralegals with two years of experience the opportunity to take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) and receive the credential of a PACE-registered paralegal (RP). After obtaining this credential, you must complete 12 hours of legal coursework that includes ethics studies every two years.

NALA administers a Certified Paralegal (CP) program. The CP exam consists of five sections that focus on areas of research, analytical skills and judgment, ethics, communications and legal concepts. To pass the exam, you must score 70% or higher. NALA also offers the Advanced Paralegal Certification for paralegals with the CP credential who want to demonstrate a higher level of knowledge and excellence in the profession.

Alternative Career Options

Labor Relations Specialist

If you'd like a career with similar educational requirements and duties as a labor paralegal but with more job opportunities, then becoming a labor relations specialist may be the right career choice. Labor relations specialists handle issues that come up regarding pay, benefits and other employer-sponsored programs; they also help create and administer contractual terms and conditions. When disputes arise between employees and management, the labor relations specialist steps in and helps the parties come to an agreement.

According to the BLS, the employment rate of human resources, training and labor relations specialists is expected to increase 21% during the 2010-2020 decade, which is faster than average. As of May 2011, the BLS also estimated that these human resources professionals received average yearly wages of approximately $59,000, with the bottom 10% earning a salary of around $30,000 and the top 10% bringing in close to $95,000.

Lawyer

If you're interested in a legal career but want higher pay and more visibility than a paralegal, you may consider becoming a lawyer. Lawyers counsel and represent their clients in legal matters before a court; they also prepare legal documents, such as deeds, wills and contracts. Lawyers present cases to judges and juries, so you'd need to have excellent communication skills. Some of the research duties may overlap with those of paralegals. However, lawyers have to earn a bachelor's degree and complete three additional years of law school, which is significantly more required education than that of a paralegal. Lawyers also have to pass the bar exam in their state before they can practice.

Even though the costs associated with pursuing a career in law may be a deterrent, the BLS estimated the annual average salary of a lawyer to be over $130,000, as shown in May 2011 figures. The BLS projected a 10% increase (about as fast as average) in the employment of lawyers between 2010 and 2020. Because the number of law school graduates every year is greater than the number of jobs available, these professionals may face stiff competition in the job market.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • BS in Legal Support and Services
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

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American National University

  • Paralegal
  • Paralegal Studies - Certificate

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice

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Colorado Christian University

  • Criminal Justice, M.S.
  • Criminal Justice, B.S.
  • Criminal Justice, A.S.

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South College

  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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Saint Leo University

  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice

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Penn Foster

  • Career Diploma - Legal Secretary

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