California Paralegal Education, Career & Salary Guide

The paralegal field developed from a need to improve the cost (and efficiency) of legal services. Paralegals research case facts and judicial decisions, which may include other relevant materials. Paralegals are tasked with the responsibility of assisting attorneys as they prepare for trial work, hearings, corporate meetings, and much more.

The duties performed by a paralegal will vary and depend on the size or type of the law firm or organization that employs them. Some paralegals choose to specialize and work in specific areas of law such as criminal law, real estate, family law, bankruptcy, among others.

Inexperienced paralegals begin by handling routine paralegal assignments. As they gain experience, paralegals tend to take on additional responsibility and varied tasks.

If you are considering a paralegal career in California, it is essential to have a complete understanding of the paralegal requirements. Before making any final career or education decisions, ask and answer these questions –

  • Where can I learn how to become a paralegal in California?
  • Do California paralegal requirements differ from other states?

Note, however, the California Paralegal Requirements are more regulated than those in other states. The paralegal requirements in California can be found in the California Business & Professional Code (6540-46), which defined a paralegal as follows –

A paralegal demonstrates the qualities and skills gained by education, training, and/or work experience requirements of the state of California, who performs substantive legal work under the supervision of a licensed lawyer, corporation, law firm, or governmental agency, among others.

 

Paralegals are typically tech-savvy, with the skills required to use computers, optical character recognition equipment, and scanners, for example. Paralegal professionals may also use spreadsheets, word processing programs, trademark (database) software, and even desktop publishing software to accomplish their professional tasks.

The tasks that a paralegal will perform under the direction of a licensed attorney include –

  • Case Planning, Development & Management
  • Client Interviews
  • Legal Research
  • Fact Gathering
  • Drafting or Analyzing Legal Paperwork
  • Compiling Technical Information
  • Representing Clients If Allowed by Court/Administrative Rule or Statute.

Paralegals may find their job responsibilities require sitting for hours at a desk in a law library or office. While most paralegal professionals work a full-time schedule (40 hours), part-time and seasonal paralegal positions are available. Paralegals employed by a law few may need to work overtime to meet a tight deadline. Overtime is typically compensated with additional time off, although it varies from company to company.

But note, according to Cal. Bus & Prof. Code 6451, it is unlawful for a paralegal to perform services with a consumer except when supervised by a qualified, licensed attorney.

If you are interested in learning how to become a paralegal in California, the following narrative provides a comprehensive analysis.

Paralegal Education Requirements in California

In accordance with California state law, paralegals must meet one of the following educational requirements –

  • A completion certificate from one of the on-campus or online paralegal programs in California.
  • A completion certificate from one of the ABA approved paralegal programs in California that may include –
    • One of the ABA approved paralegal programs in California.
    • A degree earned from a postsecondary higher learning institution that requires the completion of a minimum of 24-semester credits in law-related courses and that has been accredited by a national or regional accrediting agency. This coursework can also be approved by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education – the BPPE. *
    • Complete a minimum of 24 paralegal studies credits at one of the accredited or state-approved on-campus or online paralegal programs in California.
  • The completion of a bachelor’s or advanced degree in any subject, along with,
    • At least twelve months of professional experience related to the field of law under an attorney’s supervision.
      • The attorney –
        • Must be an active member of California’s State Bar for a minimum of the last years, or,
        • Must have practiced in the federal courts of California for a minimum of three years prior.
    • A written declaration from the attorney supervising the paralegal, indicating that the paralegal possesses the skills to perform paralegal tasks.
  • The completion of a bachelor’s or advanced degree in any subject, plus one year of experience working under the direct tutelage or supervision of a California attorney who has been licensed for a minimum of three years or an attorney who works in California’s federal court system.

Continuing Education Requirements for California Paralegals

California requires paralegals to complete eight hours of continuing legal education (CLE) every two years –

  • A minimum of four hours towards required continuing legal education in Ethics and the Law
  • A minimum of four hours towards required continuing legal education General Law or an area of Legal Specialization.

The continuing education requirements for legal education meet the requirements of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §6070. The CE requirements must be certified by the paralegal’s supervising attorney, and the paralegal is responsible for maintaining accurate recordkeeping of the earned certifications.

Certification/Licensure – Including Paralegal Certification California Online & On-campus Options

There are no specific California paralegal license requirements.

Paralegal certification in California is optional under state law. However, obtaining certification allows a paralegal to specialize in a legal area of interest, which helps as you seek to advance your paralegal career.  There are available programs for paralegal certification California online and on-campus

The Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization, Inc. recommends these California paralegal certification options –

  • The NALA – the Paralegal Certification
    • The CP (Certified Paralegal Credential) is recognized worldwide and is a popular paralegal certification in California. It reveals that the paralegal professional has passed a set of rigorous exam questions that demonstrates ample paralegal knowledge. According to NALA, those who hold a CP credential increases their salary by as much as $4,750. The CP credential from NALA must be renewed every five years and requires 50 hours of continuing legal education that is approved by NALA.
    • The CAS – California Advanced Specialization – this 10-hour course, developed by the Commission for the Certification of California Paralegals, highlights the difference between California and Federal discovery laws.
    • The ACP – the Advanced Certified Paralegal – these courses seek to expand paralegals’ professional knowledge in specific law areas. This ACP credential from NALA must be renewed every five years and requires 70 hours of continuing legal education that is approved by NALA.
  • The NALS – The Association for Legal Professionals
    • The CLP/PLS – The Certified legal Professional credential is one of the available options for paralegal certification in California. The CLP is a four-part exam that demonstrates a test taker’s professionalism and working knowledge of relevant law. This CLP credential from NALS must be renewed every five years and requires 75 hours of continuing legal education that is approved by NALA.
  • The NFPA – The National Federation of Paralegal Association
    • The PCC– the Paralegal Core Competency Credential demonstrates the skills and knowledge of paralegals early on in their career. Passing the PACE exam authorizes a professional paralegal to use the RP credential.
    • The PACE – the Paralegal Advanced Competency Credential’s requirements for a paralegal include work experience & education. In addition, the applicant/paralegal cannot have been
      • Convicted of a felony or,
      • Be under suspicion or have a license, registration, or certificate revoked or terminated by any entity.
  • The CAPA – the California Alliance of Paralegal Associations
    • The CCP – the California Certified Paralegal, is available to those individuals who have completed one of the mandated education criteria.

Paralegal Professional Organizations for California Paralegals

Choosing to join a professional association for paralegals is a prudent career move. Membership in a professional organization offers a multitude of benefits, including education & networking opportunities, plus a voice of advocacy for professionals and the overall industry.

There are several paralegal professional associations available to California Paralegals; here are three of the largest in the field.

The National Federation of Paralegal Associations – The NFPA

The NFPA was established in 1974 as the first paralegal association at the national level. The National Federation of Paralegal Associations provides relevant publications, events, and training for paralegal professionals. The NFPA is comprised of 50 member associations & 9,000 NFPA members.

The National Association of Legal Assistants & Paralegals – The NALA – The Paralegal Association

Founded in the mid-1970s, the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) operates as a non-profit organization that offers professional development opportunities, publications, and training to paralegals and legal assistants. The National Association of Legal Assistants represents more than 18,000 paralegals professionals across the country.

The California Alliance of Paralegal Associations – The CAPA

CAPA is a non-profit corporation that operates statewide dedicated to the advancement of the professional paralegal’s profession. The California Alliance of Paralegal Associations seeks to represent paralegals in the Golden State who work under the supervision of an attorney. The California Alliance of Paralegal Associations includes many local paralegal associations in California. The CAPA also administers the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization – CACPS.

 

Job Market and Salary 

Paralegals play an essential role in a legal team. They are qualified to assist a supervising attorney with a variety of supportive legal functions.

According to the OOH – the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants in the United States was $52,920, which translates to $25.44 per hour. Note that the job market growth for paralegals (which currently exceeds 337,000 professionals) is anticipated, over the next ten years (through 2029), at 10%, which is about 2.5 times faster than the average of all occupations. More specifically, the range of percentile salaries for paralegals are as follows –

Percentile Paralegal
Salary
Hourly Paralegal Salary
10% $ 32,900 per year $15.82
25% $ 40,640 per year $19.54
Median – 50% $ 52,920 per year $25.44
75% $ 67,080 per year $32.25
90% $ 85,160 per year $40.94

California Paralegal Salary Data Information

According to the California EDD -Employment Development Department median California paralegal salaryduring May 2021 was $62,768, which translates to approximately $30.18 per hour. This makes the median California paralegal salarythe second-highest in the nation, falling between the 50th and 75th percentile of all paralegal salaries.

More specifically, there were nearly 33,500 paralegal jobs in Californiawhich translates to available California paralegal jobs equal to 2.04 per 1,000 jobs. The number of available paralegal jobs in California is the second-most in the nation; only Florida has more available jobs than the available California paralegal jobs.

Metropolitan Locations – California Paralegal Salary Data

Of the ten top salaries by location for paralegals and legal assistants, five of the top-paying locations are in the state of California, as follows –

California Metro California Paralegal Salary
Napa, California $ 93,110 per year
San Jose – Santa Clara, California $ 90,280 per year
San Francisco – Oakland, California $ 75,820 per year
Santa Rosa, California $ 75,390 per year
San Diego – Carlsbad, California $ 68,130 per year

The demand for paralegal professionals will likely continue to grow as employers look for ways to reduce supportive or legal costs. As noted above, paralegals meet an industry’s need to improve legal service efficiency, which is one of the reasons the job growth in the field for the next decade is quite impressive.

The projected growth for paralegals/legal assistants in California through 2028 is expected to be 13.7%, translating to another 5,000 jobs across the few years.

 

Related:

Top 10 Paralegal Programs in California

How to Become a Paralegal in California

Ultimate Guide to State Paralegal Associations

Top 10 States for Paralegals