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Paralegals in New Jersey earn markedly less than their counterparts in other parts of the country, according to a new survey of paralegal compensation. If they worked in Newark last year, their average pay was $53,909, including bonus and overtime. Those in the Philadelphia-Southern New Jersey region earned more, $58,552. But both were below the national scale of $61,134, according to Newtown Square, Pa.-based legal consultant Altman Weil Inc., which last Tuesday reported the results of its survey of 261 law firms and 80 legal departments done early this year. New Jersey pay was surpassed by that in major cities such as New York ($66,947), Atlanta ($67,615), Boston ($68,329), Chicago ($71,166), Dallas ($69,722), Houston ($68,523), Los Angeles ($74,171) and Miami ($68,277). New Jersey pay was more in line with mid-Atlantic cities like Baltimore ($59,196) and Washington, D.C. ($56,303). The smaller paychecks for New Jersey paralegals can be explained, at least in part, by the fewer hours they put in, compared with counterparts elsewhere. The average New Jersey paralegal billed 1,175 hours last year and earned $3,064 in overtime, while the nationwide average was 1,340 hours and overtime of $6,896 – more than twice the New Jersey figure. In the survey results, compensation correlates loosely with hours worked – the highest-paid paralegals, in Los Angeles, billed an average of 1,421 hours. Paralegal Cindy Lopez, who runs njparalegal.com, a job-bank Web site for paralegals, says the Altman Weil salary figures for New Jersey are consistent with her experience, though she says she’s encountered salaries as high as $85,000 (for a paralegal with 25 years of experience) and as low as $26,400 (for two years of experience). Lopez, who works for a Toms River solo, says salaries in the Ocean-Monmouth area tend to be lower because, with only a handful of large law firms, there are fewer opportunities. Dawn Moskalow, president of the South Jersey Paralegal Association, adds that the study’s $149 hourly rate for paralegals in the Philadelphia-Southern New Jersey area seems higher than going rates in the Burlington County area where she works. Altman Weil principal James Wilber admits that his survey isn’t scientific, which may explain some of the variations in salaries and billing rates. Participants were chosen among respondents to past Altman Weil polls, past clients of the company, and members of the International Paralegal Management Association. Thus, the eight unnamed Newark firms that responded might be small firms rather than a representative sample of the region. Large firms generally pay paralegals more than smaller firms, but the survey does not purport to represent a true cross section of firms in each market, he says. Aside from the regional disparities, the survey showed other developments in paralegal employment:
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