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How Much Does Hiring Legal Support Staff Cost?

It takes a lot more than just lawyers to make a law firm work. From secretaries who keep an office running to paralegals who make sure your filings actually get filed, successful lawyers require a whole team to keep them afloat. (You could, of course, answer your own phones and file your own filings -- but you can bill a lot more when you're spending that time lawyering.)

How much do those teams need to make?

Legal Support Professionals Are in Demand

Last week, we told you about Robert Half's 2016 Salary Guide and kept the focus on lawyers. But if you've got a growing practice, you don't necessarily need to hire a new associate. A strong paralegal or legal secretary can help take extra, non-practice tasks off your hands. They provide an essential support for many practices and, according to Robert Half, are increasingly in demand.

What sort of salary can the typical paralegal make in 2016? Wages for a senior paralegal, one with seven or more years of experience, are expected to be as low as $51,500 in a small firm and up to $83,200 in a midsized firm, according to Robert Half. A case clerk or assistant, just starting out, could expect a minimum of $29,750 at a small firm and up to $43,750 at a midsized office. (We know, these are wide ranges, meant to give a basic idea of salaries. There's a more detailed breakdown in the survey itself.)

When it comes to legal secretaries, the most experienced can earn up to $71,500 in midsized firms, while starting secretaries can often make half that. Of course, these numbers are national averages. They vary not just by experience level, but location. It will cost you much more to bring on support staff in, say, New York City, than in New Orleans.

Remember, Salary Isn't Everything -- And You Can Rent

Those salary ranges don't represent the full cost of an employee, of course. It can cost between $2,000 and $7,000 just to hire a new employee, according to the U.C. Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. You'll also be expected to pay 7.65 percent of the employee's income, beyond salary, as the employer's share of FICA taxes. You may also need to provide unemployment insurance, health care benefits, retirement contributions, etc. -- costs can add up quickly.

If that sounds like too much, remember, you don't have to hire every employee. Lawyers can bring on temporary labor to help as needed. "Virtual" paralegals -- essentially freelance, telecommuting legal assistants -- are also an option for those needing project-based assistance. If you're just growing your practice, such alternatives to hiring can be a good way to test out your options without committing to a full hire.

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