The History – and the Future – of the Paralegal Profession

The paralegal industry was created back in the 1960s through the shared interest of law firms, Congress, and the American Bar Association. Those three entities wanted to extend law services at a lower cost to lower income families and individuals. At first, legal secretaries were drafted and given on the job training in order to assume the responsibility for some legal matters. These secretaries, who were not members of the Bar Association, were the country’s first paralegals.

For more about the development of the profession, read on for its brief history.

Development of the Paralegal Profession: A Brief History

As we mentioned above, the ABA and others first advocated the idea of the paralegal profession back in 1960, in the hopes that paraprofessionals could provide lower cost legal services to clients. That same year, two colleges began the first training programs for paralegals: the University of Denver and Columbia University. The rest of the 1960s saw the establishment and even the clarification of paralegals’ roles in law. In 1967, the ABA issued a formal statement designed to clarify when paralegals could and could not be used in legal matters. A year later, in 1968, the Special Committee on Lay Assistants for Lawyers was formed to help advocate the use of paraprofessionals in the legal field.

The 1970s saw further development and formalization for paraprofessionals. In 1970, proprietary schools that provided paralegal training began popping up across the country. In 1971, the ABA formally adopted the term “legal assistant” into its vernacular, and two years later drafted the guidelines for accreditation that would govern all institutions of higher education that offered paralegal training. In 1975, the National Association for Legal Assistants was formed and began offering two certification examinations that paralegals must pass before they formally begin their careers. These two examinations are known as the CLA/CP and the CLAS.

By 1980, over 250 schools in the country offered paralegal training. In 1981, the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) is established. In 1986, well over a decade after issuing the term “legal assistant,” the ABA formally defined the term. In 1985, the ABA’s Standing Committee on Paralegals rejected the idea of federal licensing and mandatory certification of paraprofessionals before they entered the field of law.

By 1990, the number of institutions offering paralegal training programs had grown to over 600 across the nation. A year later, the ABA adopted a formal set of guidelines, known as the Model Guidelines for the Utilization of Legal Assistant Services, which further cemented the profession within the industry.

Paralegals: What’s Happening Now

Schools that offer paralegal training have now mushroomed to over 1,000 across the country. The average annual salary is $46,120 and the number of people employed as paralegals is approximately 263,800 as of 2008. Typically, most paralegals are female; in fact, 87% of those in the profession are women. A degree in paralegal studies may be required, and the average age at retirement is 62.

The pay scale in terms of common paralegal jobs is as follows:

  • Senior Paralegal – $45K to $67K;
  • Corporate Paralegal – $44K to $67K;
  • Paralegal/Legal Assistant – $29K to $45K.

Will an advanced degree make a difference in your salary? The pay scale in terms of degrees is broken down as follows:

  • Bachelor of Arts, Political Science – $39K to $61K;
  • Bachelor of Arts – $35K to $55K;
  • Bachelor of Science – $35K to $55K;
  • Paralegal – $33K to $50K;
  • Associate of Applied Science – $30K to $44K.

The Future of the Paralegal Profession

The projected employment rate for paralegals is 337,900 by 2018 – a 28% growth from 2008 numbers. As of today, over 200,000 paraprofessionals are employed and nearly 75% of all lawyers use paralegals. The growth of the field is expected to continue well into 2014.
The steady growth, high pay scale, and low unemployment rates associated with this profession make it a good choice for anyone seeking a new career path.

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