Paralegal Linda McGrath-Cruz, Anrstein & Lehr
Paralegal Linda McGrath-Cruz, Anrstein & Lehr (J. Albert Diaz)

Salaries for most South Florida paralegals fall in the median range—$70,220 annually—compared with paralegals in other cities around the country.

That’s one finding of a comprehensive, 650-page survey on paralegals conducted by the International Paralegal Management Association and ALM Legal Intelligence.

The survey found the average hourly rate for a paralegal in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area is $33.76 an hour, or 8 percent below the national average of $36.42.

By comparison, Chicago paralegals are on top at $42.09 an hour, or $87,547 a year. In New York, the hourly rate is $39.95 for a salary of $83,096; in Atlanta, $36.91 and $76,772; Washington, $36.91 and $76,772; Houston, $36.75 and $76,440; and Des Moines, Iowa, $23 and $47,840 annually.

About 93 percent of the respondents’ paralegal positions (250 of 281) were at Am Law 200 firms, the highest-grossing firms in the United States.

That could explain why the salary findings were significantly higher than those listed for paralegals by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to federal statistics, the average salary for Florida paralegals is $22.99 an hour, or $47,820 annually. That survey includes paralegals at all law firms.

Florida has the second-highest number of working paralegals in the country at 24,360, according to the BLS. California ranks first, with New York, Texas and Illinois falling behind Florida.

Linda McGrath-Cruz, a paralegal at Arnstein & Lehr in Miami and a committee chair in the paralegal section of the Broward County Bar Association, said paralegal salaries reported by the federal government are more in line with what paralegals make than the IPMA survey.

“The hourly rate of $33.76 is definitely the upper level in the industry,” said McGrath-Cruz, who runs a paralegal job posting website. “Realistically, there are many, many more who are earning $30,000 to $50,000 than are earning $70,000 to $85,000 a year. What some of the solo firms want to offer is ridiculously low—like $10 an hour. I just refuse to post those jobs.”

In South Florida, 14 law firms responded about hourly compensation for the combined 87 paralegals they employ. On the topic of bonuses, 11 law firms responded regarding 49 positions.

The average bonus handed out to paralegals in South Florida was $4,761, according to the survey. The highest bonus was $8,500 and the lowest $1,500. There was little variation in bonus amounts nationally.

On paralegal billing rates, South Florida firms reported charging an average of $189 an hour, and the highest rate was $255 an hour. The national average was $219.

Annual billable hours for South Florida paralegals averaged 1,350, with the highest clocking 1,778.

By comparison, hourly billing rates for Atlanta paralegals averaged $229; $212 in Denver; $254 in Houston; $261 in Chicago; $178 in Kansas City, Mo.; and $260 in Los Angeles. Annual billable hours in Atlanta averaged 1,347, in Denver 1,223, in Houston 1,395, in Los Angeles 1,313, in Chicago 1,476 and in Kansas City 1,365.

By years of experience, the average South Florida paralegal hourly salary rate was $27.55 for those in the profession four to six years and $33.14 for those practicing seven to 10 years.

Overall, 298 law firms and law departments employing a total of 9,508 paralegals answered the International Paralegal Management Association/ALM survey.