How Much do Paralegals Make?
Any profession in law requires hard work, dedication, and an extensive knowledge of all the intricacies of a country’s legal framework. Whilst a pure law degree may be daunting and out of reach for some, a career as a paralegal can be just as rewarding, both professionally and financially. Lawyers are somewhat infamous for their earning potential, but what about other legal professionals?
A Paralegal is someone who trained and educated to run legal administration, assist lawyers in preparing for cases, and contributing to the due diligence process. In Ontario specifically, Paralegal professionals have recently been given the right to even more legal responsibility and can represent clients in small claims cases and appear before a judge to defend minor offences. So after all of those long nights of studying and gruelling exams, how much can a Paralegal expect to make in Canada?
It’s all about location
How much a Paralegal can expect to earn depends greatly on where in Canada they are looking for employment. Obviously this will need to be taken into account when assessing the viability of a career as a Paralegal, as your province will have a big impact on your salary expectations.
As mentioned above, in 2007 Ontario passed legislation that recognised Paralegal as a regulated profession that requires a specific education and number of experience hours in order to practice. This means that Paralegals in Ontario have generally undergone more extensive education than in other provinces, and also means they have a higher degree of professional responsibility and more legal matters that they can attend to independently. With the increased educational requirements and responsibilities comes a commensurate increase in maximum earning potential for Paralegals practicing in Ontario. Depending on grades, experience and – to some extent – networking, a Paralegal professional in Ontario can expect to earn between $50,000 to $70,000 per year. This higher earning power in the province has meant a higher degree of competition, but the larger number of law firms and Paralegal job opportunities in the country’s most business focussed province helps to alleviate some of the pressure.
Unlike in Ontario, Paralegals in all other provinces in Canada are not required to undergo a specific level of education or certain number of experience hours. This means the barriers for entry into the profession are lower, however, it also means there is a decrease in the expected salary range and level of professional responsibility and autonomy. Paralegals practicing outside of Ontario are considered more like legal secretaries, whose main responsibilities would involve legal office administration, personal assistant duties to lawyers, and background research for upcoming cases. An entry level Paralegal outside of Ontario could expect to earn between $25,000 to $30,000 per year depending on their previous experience and any supplementary education they may have undertaken. A top level Paralegal with extensive experience and education could make as much as $70,000 per year although these positions are relatively limited.
Public or Private
Salaries for Paralegals are also dictated by which realm of law they wish to enter – private law firms or public government offices. Both industries have their pros and cons, and which one works best for you will depend on your individual circumstances.
Private Law Firms
As is the case with pretty much all legal professionals, a private law firm is where a Paralegal could typically expect to maximise their earning potential. Private law firms are generally able to hire the best lawyers and legal professionals as they can offer much higher salaries due to their reputations, marketing, and societal view that a high legal defence cost is positively correlated to the successful outcome of a case. Paralegals working within private law firms could potentially work on high profile cases, meaning their salaries could increase to compensate them for their discretion and high efficiency. In Ontario, Paralegals are also legally permitted to represent clients independently from a fully qualified lawyer in small claims cases, and may even see court time in front of a judge for minor infractions. All of this means that a Paralegal working in a private law firm in Ontario could expect to make around $60,000 per year on average, with a highly qualified and experienced Paralegal being able to charge between $50 to $75 an hour.
A role as a Paralegal within a public government office, for example the provincial Ontario government, would typically offer a lower maximum salary than in a private law firm. However, you may want to consider the other pros that come with working for the government in a Paralegal capacity, which include significant health insurance benefits, more paid vacation days, and a range of other supplementary programs. A top Paralegal professional working for the government could likely earn up to $70,000 per year, and if the cost-benefits of the other perks of the job are taken into account, this works out to a practical income of significantly higher.
Hit the books
If you are looking to become a Paralegal, especially if Ontario is your preferred location, then a high quality Paralegal education is a must. Cestar College in Toronto offers one of the best courses in the province, combining rigorous theoretical knowledge with practical experience. Fully accredited by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), the course includes a 120 hour placement in a legal environment that also provides you with the vital networking opportunity to get a great headstart in your career and provide the opportunity to work for the top law firms in the country. Even if Ontario is not your end goal, completing the Cestar College Paralegal degree will dramatically increase your earning potential in other provinces as well, as an accredited Paralegal education allows you to command a higher salary no matter where you are.