Because they handle important administrative and research-based tasks delegated to them, a strong paralegal is essential to a lawyer's success. While 71 percent of paralegals are employed by law firms, they may also choose to freelance, offering their legal assistant services to those in private practice or with various other organizations. A freelance paralegal's salary should be competitive with the average salaries of other paralegals in the area.
Freelance paralegals are categorized in the "legal services" industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which overall brings in a mean annual wage of $48,460. This is slightly below the average salary for all paralegals, including those working for the government, companies and enterprises, software publishers and other industries, which totals at $50,080. The bottom ten percent of paralegals overall earned an average of $29,800 as of May 2009, while the top ten percent earned $75,700.
Like all freelancers, paralegals can vary their rates depending on whom they are serving and the level of demand of the job. It is also important to consider what other paralegals are being paid in the industry before accepting a project. For example, paralegals in the industry of petroleum and coal products manufacturing earn an average annual wage of $81,150, well above the average for freelance paralegals. Taking on a project for the government may also be a chance to increase rates, as they also pay above average; while the state government pays paralegals slightly less than average at $44,160, the local government averages at $50,480 and the federal executive branch pays much higher at $62,570.
Cost of living and the local demand for legal assistance will always play a role in the salary of a paralegal. Those in Washington D.C., which has the highest concentration of paralegals, earn the highest wages at $64,760, followed by New York at $60,140. West Virginia has the second highest concentration of paralegals but a much lower annual mean wage of $36,020. California, Illinois and Alaska are three of the highest paying states for paralegals with average salaries ranging from $52,640 to $59,270.
What to Charge
According to Paralegal Career Path, "Freelance paralegals or independent contractors are often paid more than salaried paralegal employees because they generally have a lot of experience and are responsible for their own expenses." While location and industry play a large role in setting salaries, freelance paralegals should ultimately set a salary they deserve based on experience and previous success.