How Specialty Choice Affects Compensation

The effect of choice of legal specialty on salary is not clear. The reasons for this are varied. First, as noted above, the designation of a legal specialty does not necessarily translate into time spent in that specialty. This makes it difficult to correlate salary with the activities of the specialty. Second, some of the more limited specialties are centered in large, metropolitan law firms. These employers tend to pay higher salaries across the board. Again, it is difficult to attribute higher salaries to the specialty itself.

The available evidence, in the form of salary surveys from the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the National Association of Legal Assistants, suggests that certain specialties command higher salaries than others. The highest-paying legal specialties, as reported in these surveys, are corporate law, environmental law, real estate, entertainment, and intellectual property law. The lowest-paying fields are family law, probate, criminal law, bankruptcy, and workers' compensation.

As with any salary information, the reported results are generalities. The salaries in your area may vary significantly. It seems to be generally true, however, that specialty fields with high profit margins, high demand for qualified paralegals, and a requirement of some specialized training command the highest salaries.

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There is no clear relationship between the choice of a legal specialty and the salary paid to the paralegal. In most cases, higher salaries are paid to paralegals with more experience or with substantial additional training in a specialty field. If you are a beginning paralegal without any special training, you can expect an average salary for your area, no matter what “specialty” you choose.

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