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NALA’s Survey Shows Salaries Higher for Those with CLA, CLAS Credentials
By Kim Hedstrom
November/December 2000 Issue

If you’ve got a paralegal credential, expect to earn more. According to the National Association of Legal Assistants’ (NALA) compensation survey, credentialed paralegals are commanding average wages between $41, 603 and $48,281.

In a January mailing, 2,521 paralegals nationwide answered survey questions about their professional experience, education, work environment, job responsibilities, billing rates and compensation.

Those answers were then compiled into the report, NALA 2000 National Utilization and Compensation Survey, downloadable at www.nala.org. Marge Dover, NALA’s executive director, described the survey as “a look at who makes up the profession, what they do, and some of the changes taking place.”

Who Makes Up the Profession?
Most legal assistants (74 percent) work for private law firms, and more than half work in litigation. Twenty-three percent of the respondents have six to 10 years experience in the field and 53 percent have been with their current employer between one and five years.

The participants also have a varied degree of education and experience.

Forty percent reported they have a bachelor’s degree and 52 percent hold the Certified Legal Assistant
credential (CLA).

“The CLA has a positive influence on and correlation to salary and compensation, and in some cases billing rates. Although, the CLA specialist credential [CLAS] has clearly more,” said Pat Elliott, NALA president and a legal assistant in Phoenix.

The survey data confirms an average compensation of $41,603 for respondents with the CLA credential, versus $39,220 without the credential. Respondents with the CLAS credential had an average compensation of $48,281, as compared to $39,880, the average without the credential. Currently, 10,541 legal assistants have earned the CLA credential, and 895 have a CLAS.

What They Do
According to the results, 27 percent of the respondents work overtime every day — 34 percent are always paid for it and 39 percent are never paid. The top three duties paralegals perform daily are reported as drafting correspondence, handling case management and calendaring deadlines. Fifty-one percent of the respondents said they work in litigation, while 21 percent work in family law. In addition to the respondents’ regular work, 83 percent said they attend continuing education seminars, 56 percent said they seek more complex work in their practice area, and 43 percent said they get more involved in their professional associations.

The Changes Taking Place
According to Kenneth Frakes, NALA’s communications director, questions added to NALA’s survey reflect an increase in duties and responsibilities for legal assistants.

“We can report with confidence that 73 percent of those who were paralegals for at least five years reported an expansion of job responsibilities,” he said. “Also, 88 percent of the same group reported more work involving independent judgment, and 68 percent reported more sophisticated work such as increased involvement with clients.”

Those statistics are true in Elliott’s case. “When I started out in this business years ago, there were certain set things we did — background work. You weren’t in the forefront and involved,” she said. “Now, we really are more involved in processing cases and meeting with the clients.”

How the Survey Can be Used
The survey can be used as a tool for negotiating salary and benefits.

“It’s nice to have something in your hands when you walk in to your employer and say, ‘I would like to negotiate my salary for the next year, and here are some figures so you can see how my compensation package compares,’ ” she said.

Elliott also said she likes the way the survey is broken down into seven different regions.

“You can determine your area, so that you’re not comparing apples to oranges,” she said. “My region is region five, the Southwest.”

Elliott said she has noticed Southwest paralegals don’t usually have as high a salary as those paralegals in other regions, however, she said, “I was surprised in this year’s survey — we, Southwestern legal assistants are doing all right.”

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