I Make $54,000 As A Legal Assistant — & I’m Hearing Impaired

In our series Salary Stories, women with long-term career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions, and job loss, with the hope it will give young women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.

Been in the workforce for at least eight years and interested in contributing your salary story? Submit your information here.

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Previously, we talked to a tax advisory specialist in Buffalo, NY , a social worker in Raleigh, NC, and a senior marketing manager in Chicago.

Age: 25

Current Location: Austin, Texas

Current Industry & Title: Law, Legal Assistant

Starting Salary: $10,400

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Current Salary: $54,000

Number Of Years Employed: 9

Biggest Salary Jump: $22,000 in 2016, from $32,000 to $54,000

Biggest Salary Drop: None

Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: "The first time I asked for a raise, I made it seem like it would be a nice thing for them to do for me, when in reality, I needed a raise because I could not continue to ask for help with my expenses from my parents in good conscience. I made the mistake of agreeing to a very small raise, instead of sticking up for what I was worth and finding a new job. When I did finally quit, I realized very quickly that I was way underpaid and a really hard worker, because immediately after beginning my search for a new position, I had several opportunities to choose from. My fear of not being good enough cost me financially."

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Best Salary-Related Advice: "The more you tell yourself 'I can't,' the more you believe it. If you tell yourself, 'I'm the best fit for this job, and here is why,' it will translate to the employer and they will likely agree. If you don't have a degree, but you do have equivalent experience in the field, apply for the job! You have no clue how many applicants have the degree and zero experience. Maybe they just don't realize you are actually perfect for what they need, degree or not."

Talk a bit about being hearing impaired and how it affects daily life for you.

"I was born with moderate hearing loss in both ears. My parents found out when I was pretty young because, as they tell it, I was just 'the happiest baby and slept through anything.' I can read lips — the last time I was officially tested, I read lips at a 98% accuracy with no sound spoken; it's probably around 70% accurate now. My parents absolutely love to test this skill at loud restaurants, and my boyfriend calls me his little spy. LOL.

"I had worn digital hearing aids since I was about eight years old, on and off. I really hated them as a kid. Other kids teased me. I spent a lot of mornings wearing them and took them out right after my parents dropped me off. I just didn't want to be different.

"When my dad saw on Dr. Phil the Lyric hearing aid, he came to me in tears, the first and one of the only times I ever saw my dad cry. When I got them, suddenly nobody knew I couldn't hear, because all of a sudden I could. I cried the first time I heard a clock tick, the first time I turned my shower on and heard the water come out. I could suddenly hear the words to all my favorite songs and go hang out with my friends and really be the version of myself I had always wanted to be in my mind. I started to figure out who I was. I was naive as hell, but confident for the first time in my life. With that confidence, I started my first job.

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"Now my hearing loss affects me most when I do not have my hearing aids in, which, fortunately, is rare. These are analog rather than digital and are fitted deep in my ears by my audiologist every three months (that is about how long the battery lasts). I can shower with them, work out and sweat, but I cannot go completely under water with them. I chose these hearing aids because they are the only ones that don't make my entire life sound like it's coming through a cheap microphone, and they are the only hearing aids that truly nobody can see. They gave me the power to make my disability as invisible and insignificant to my identity as I had always felt it was.

"So I keep paying $3,500 a year for them, every year, with no help from insurance after I turned 23 (hearing aids are not covered by most insurance providers). I could buy digital hearing aids, like what I wore sometimes as a kid, for $6K-$7K and wear them for five years, saving me roughly $15K or more, but I can't go back after hearing the world the way I always knew it should be."

"I started my first job as a file clerk in a family law firm. I was still in high school at the time that I started, so I would come in just after my classes ended and stay until 9 p.m. before going home to finish all my homework. I got this position because my sister encouraged me to approach an attorney visiting our school's debate class and ask him if he needed help at his firm. To my surprise, he said they could really use a file clerk and offered me $10 an hour and the option to make my own hours, as long as it was 20 a week. Looking back, this was an incredible opportunity and a testament to how important it is to just ask for the things you want. You just never know until you try. I learned a lot about law here, and even more about working in a professional office."
"I became a legal assistant at another firm and was paid $14 hourly, part-time. I had no insurance at the time but was still on my parents' plan, so I didn't have to negotiate or consider that. I got this job because I had graduated from high school and felt I had enough experience to find something where I would learn more."
"After about a year I asked to work full-time, and they agreed. This job allowed me to move into my first apartment and gain financial freedom in a sense, but the burden of living in Austin at that wage eventually became too high."
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"I was nervous but decided to ask for a raise, after learning I was making the same amount as some fast-food employees. I felt my level of professionalism and care was not being appreciated. I had a conversation with my boss and told him what I wanted. He told me I could go up to $16 an hour, but because of my hearing loss and nervousness, I heard $26 an hour and happily agreed to what I thought was an incredible raise. (At this point, I had been wearing Lyrics for many years. They do a lot to correct and increase sound, but some tones/volumes and certain accents/speakers are just tougher to hear for anyone. There's something called oronyms — basically words and phrases that people get mixed up — and I mishear them all the time.) My lovely coworker brought me back to reality when she informed me that I misheard and that he offered me $16 an hour. I was upset and embarrassed that I totally misheard, so I naturally pretended this was all totally fine.

"I had never told that employer I had hearing loss, because I thought they may not hire me, so I let them make jokes about how I needed a 'hearing aid' and went home really upset. I stayed at this job for another full year, despite receiving an offer to work for $48,000 a year at another firm. I didn't take that offer because I was still very, very scared of the world at this point and was not ready emotionally and mentally to put myself in that position. I knew I wouldn't be able to give it the dedication it needed. Looking back, though, I feel I should've taken the opportunity, because I've learned that you cannot let fear get in the way of creating a better life for yourself. This was a learning moment for me."
"I quit my job because of an assault and abusive relationship I was in. I wasn't in a healthy place and was crying most days, so I put in my two weeks' notice and explained to my boss that I was going to do a little soul searching. I reached out to my parents and temporarily moved back in with them and started therapy.

"EMDR works fast, for me at least, and luckily I was back to myself mostly within a couple months and ready to go back to working, at which point I began applying for jobs. Thanks to the stellar recommendations from my second boss, I got some great interviews, some for positions I was way underqualified for actually. It took three months to find the job I'm in now. But when I left that interview, I thought, 'This is perfect fit for me and them.'

"My parents supported me during that unemployed time, letting me live at home and feeding me, and my mom let me borrow a nice interview outfit. I worked as a waitress briefly for a couple of those months and made some good friends, but I am admittedly not the best waitress and didn't really enjoy the job itself."
"I found my current job, which is legal assistant specializing in complex litigation and trademark law. This was the big salary leap where I went from making $32,000 a year previously, with no health insurance and no benefits, to working for $54,000 a year with full dental, life, and medical insurance, four weeks paid time off, and yearly bonuses. This job took me three months to find, while unemployed, and is the biggest leap I've made professionally so far.

"I went on an interview with a headhunter. She found me three jobs, and the third was the offer I accepted. They offered me $48,000 with benefits, and she negotiated me to $54,000 with benefits and four weeks paid time off.

"My hearing loss did not come up because I chose not to bring it up until after I was hired. Because my hearing aids are invisible, I can read lips, and I'm a great listener, most people would never know about it, unless I tell them specifically or if they are soft-spoken, which attorneys are not at all. However, my hearing aids also 'die' with no notice, and I have to pull them out and get an appointment to get a new pair. This usually only takes a day, but because not all audiologists are trained with Lyric, I have to go to a specific one. The first time a hearing aid went out at this job, I let my boss and all my coworkers know about my hearing loss.

"I am in the same job now, and I love it so much. I am able to save a lot for the future and have great job security. I am respected and regarded as a hard worker, and most importantly I never have to ask my parents for help or rely on anyone but myself. I also learn a lot and am challenged regularly, because we cover so many areas of law in our practice. Plus, we help good, honest people take bad, deceiving liars to court and get families and individuals the justice they deserve. It's something I'm proud to be a part of.

"I'm now working on obtaining my paralegal certificate, so I can make my way into the position above mine. This will give employers the confidence to hire me for that specifically and give me a good negotiation starting point for my next salary. And I imagine it will help employers who are wary of hiring someone without a formal degree.

"I think my career will stay rooted in law; most likely I will become a paralegal and stop there. However, I am actually an artist on the side. I wear a lot of creative hats: I do videography, painting, graphic design, web design, and songwriting, and continue to explore lots of creative fields. The logical side of me loves the order and structure that come with law. The creative side of me would love to go dye my hair rainbow colors, always be covered in paint with no makeup, and creating things in my studio. But that's the beauty of my job — I don't have to choose one over the other. I can be both sides of me. Well, minus the rainbow hair, but I do love a good wig. :)"
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