Paralegal Education in Texas
Texas proudly boasts the distinction of being the first of 50 states to recognize paralegals for their contribution to the legal profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 16,000 legal assistants alone were employed in Texas in 2011- a huge number pushing the Lone Star State into the fourth highest employer in the Union. Houston alone ranks in at 6th highest employment of paraprofessionals in a metropolitan city.
Prompted by its own actions and number of paralegals in the workforce, the State Bar of Texas created a Paralegal Division and initiated offering the state-issued Certificate, a wholly voluntary exam sponsored by the TBLS, or State Texas Board of Legal Specialization, allowing paralegals to gain distinction among their peers and employers. A few State Bars have allowed inclusion of paraprofessionals in their associative ranks and Texas, leading the way in paralegal appreciation, suggests attorneys look for specific qualifications when hiring assistants (though these qualifications cannot be demanded) such as a BA or higher in any discipline and including a year’s worth of experience under a supervising attorney plus minimum 15 hours of continued legal education; TBLS specialty certification; national Certification through one of three national paralegal associations; both ABA-approved and accredited university or community college paralegal studies; completion of minimum 4 years legal work experience with paralegal acting under Rule 5.3 which states a paralegal must not work without direct supervision of a practicing attorney; and join the Paralegal Division of the State Bar and/or local professional paralegal associations (see resource links below). While the paralegal field is not like the world of the courtroom warrior and no education is absolutely required, Texas is very serious about the skills and competencies of its paralegal force, always pushing fort further education and certainly, when in doubt, a Firm or Company will almost always opt for the better qualified hopeful. Education is a great way to distinguish oneself inside the profession.
In considering which institute of learning to study at, the wisest choice would be to find one where the school is accredited by a private, regional or national organization such as the Depatrment of Education and where the legal studies program has been approved by the ABA or American Bar Association.
|In USD as of Mar 12, 2013 (source: indeed.com)||30k||60k||90k|
|Paralegal in Texas $45,000||
Certified Versus Certification
The terms are often used interchangeably but are not the same words. Certification comes with the successful completion of a program course; it’s awarded at the end of school learning. A certificate is offered at the successful completion of a state sponsored or nationally sponsored exam designed to highlight a paralegal’s knowledge, skills, experience and core competencies. Both are excellent achievements but the latter gains a paralegal recognition once in the field, whereas certification gains access to the field. To be titled a Certified Paralegal, there are four different tests offered by three different national paralegal associations:
- the CLA/CP sponsored by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- the PACE and the PCC, both sponsored by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- the PP sponsored by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS).
There is a fee for each sitting, so be prepared for those as well. Also, requirements for each test varies. It is a good idea to have a look at this chart before sitting for any of the four exams.
List of ABA Approved Schools in Texas
Remember, your best option is to attend a school that is both accredited and ABA approved. Texas boasts nine of them:
Amarillo College is a public, 2-year community college offering an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree in Paralegal Studies. It requires 71-72 semester hours for completion and internships are elective.
El Centro College in Dallas is a public, 2-year college offering an AAS in Paralegal Studies.
Kaplan College (f/k/a Southeastern Career Institute) located in Dallas is a proprietary school extending an AAS in General Paralegal Studies and a shorter Certificate program.
Lamar State College – Port Arthur in Port Arthur is a public, 2-year school offering an AAS in a Legal Assistant Program and requires 72 semester credit hours to complete. Internships are mandatory.
Lee College in Baytown is a public, 2-year school offering an AAS or a Certificate in Paralegal Studies.
Lone Star College – North Harris (f/k/a North Harris College) in Houston is a community college (2 year) offering an AAS and a Certificate in Paralegal Studies.
San Jacinto College – North in Houston is a 2 year school extending an AAS with the completion of 65 semester hours in the Paralegal Program with mandatory internships.
Texas A & M University – Commerce is a public 4 year university in Commerce offering a Bachelor of Arts and a Post-Bacc Certificate. Internships are mandatory.
Texas State University-San Marcos (formerly Southwest Texas State University) in San Marcos is a 4 year public school extending a Master of Arts and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate (where the student possesses a BA in any discipline) and completion times vary: 36-24 semester credit hours depending on option chosen; approx. 9 months/2 long academic semesters for completion of certificate, and of course, 4 years for the BA. Internships are mandatory.
Entry Level Positions
A paralegal is hardly relegated to only law firms -they can work in banks, government agencies, and divorce offices to name a few- but the most visible workplace and where most paralegals cut their teeth, are in the big law firms that make their headquarters in major metropolitan areas. Below find a truncated list of the several of the largest firms in the state:
Strasburger & Price
720 Brazos Street
Austin, Texas 78701
T: 512 499 3600
F: 512 499 3660
2801 Network Boulevard
Frisco, Texas 75034
T: 469 287 3900
F: 469 287 3999
901 Main Street
Dallas, Texas 75202
T: 214 651 4300
F: 214 651 433
909 Fannin Street
Houston, Texas 77010
T: 713 951 5600
F: 713 951 5660
300 Convent Street
San Antonio, Texas 78205
San Antonio, Texas 78205
Bank of America Plaza
901 Main Street
Dallas, TX 75202
1401 McKinney Street
Houston, Texas 77010
Associations are bigger deals in some states than others, but there is most certainly a place for at least one in the life a legal assistant. Over the past few decades the emersion of a greater number of associations has helped to boost the public opinion of paralegals into something far greater than just a ‘lawyer want-to-be’; associations have promoted the professionalism of the field, the visibility of it and bolstered its members educations by offering seminars and workshops. They advocate further schooling, professional support, job banking, and many other worthy pursuits for paralegals. Quite a few will offer services pro bono for greater visibility, a sense of community and professional assistance the public would otherwise not have. These free sessions also help further cement the paraprofessional brotherhood.
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- State Bar of Texas
- State Bar of Texas – Paralegal Division
- State Bar of Texas – Paralegal Standards
- Texas Board of Legal Specialization – Paralegal Certification Process
- Texas Board of Legal Specialization – Paralegal Certification
- Alamo Area Paralegal Association (AAPA)
- Capital Area Paralegal Association (CAPA)
- Dallas Area Paralegal Association (DAPA)
- Houston Metropolitan Paralegal Association (HMPA)