Understanding how to become a paralegal in Texas can be very simple or complicated. There are no legal Texas paralegal requirements, so at least in theory, anyone could be hired as a paralegal. A lawyer could train a person to do whatever he needs to be done, and that person would be serving as a paralegal. There are no specific education requirements and no legal requirement for certification as a paralegal in Texas. Even so, you will find it hard to get a job without some sort of legal education and some level of job experience. Several Texas colleges offer paralegal programs that most law offices will accept as sufficient training to help them in their office.
What Does a Texas Paralegal Do?
A paralegal is essentially a legal assistant with some training who helps lawyers do their job. Paralegals do research, draft legal documents, summarize records, maintain files, communicate with clients, and anything else the lawyer may need help with. A paralegal has more legal training and is more involved in actual cases than a legal assistant.
A paralegal might work with an attorney on an individual case, helping them build the case by doing research. They may also help craft legal papers for the trial itself. Some paralegals interview clients and witnesses and seek information during the discovery phase of a trial. Paralegals work alongside attorneys in all aspects of their jobs. Law school takes a long time and a lot of money. If you are interested in the practice of law but don’t have the means or patience to do law school, a career as a paralegal could be a good option.
What Education is Required in Texas?
The State Bar of Texas has created some criteria that it feels paralegals should have to give a more complete guide to how to become a paralegal in Texas. Most law firms, or entities that hire paralegals, have adopted these criteria in their practice. These are not legal Texas paralegal requirements but are standards that have been agreed to over time to qualify a person for an entry-level job. There are three educational criteria, and at least one should be met.
- Graduate of an American Bar Association paralegal education program.
- Graduate of any paralegal studies program from an accredited university.
- Have a bachelor’s degree in any area, along with a year of supervised paralegal work.
Work experience is also normally wanted by lawyers. Even beyond education, the state bar recommends at least a year of experience working under the direct supervision of an attorney. This can be accomplished with an internship or an apprenticeship with a law office. Legal aid associations in Texas are a good place to get some experience. This can also help those that need legal representation but cannot afford the cost.
While there is no specific education required, the state bar association recommends getting some training, and lawyers usually want someone to have training when they are hired. An ABA-approved paralegal program in Texas is one that nearly all employers will respect. A program that is not ABA-approved, but given at an accredited university, will also usually be accepted by most law firms.
Education options include:
- An associate’s degree generally takes two years. It will include all the basics you need, and these programs are sometimes available at junior colleges or community colleges. It is often called legal studies or may be called paralegal studies.
- A bachelor’s degree is the basic four-year college degree. Many employers require this as a basic degree You may major in paralegal studies, or have a minor in that area. A bachelor’s degree in any field, along with some experience, is also usually acceptable.
- A master’s degree in legal studies is another option for people who already have a bachelor’s, and want more training. Classes will include more specific training such as negotiation, advocacy, intellectual property law, and employment law.
- For people with a degree, an online master’s might be a good option. This allows people to prepare for a career as a paralegal while working at another job.
- Several Texas colleges have ABA-approved paralegal programs in Texas. The state board suggests an ABA-approved paralegal program in Texas.
- Online paralegal programs in Texas are becoming more popular with the Covid-19 pandemic. Online paralegal programs in Texas are also good for people who are working and want to continue their jobs while studying.
Lawyers and companies hiring paralegals tend to want some level of experience, but it can be hard to get experience until you get the education. Some law offices take on interns, whether paid or unpaid, and that counts as experience. Some call it an apprenticeship. It can be done while you are in school as part of your education. Paralegal requirements in Texas call for experience, even if the law does not require it.
With some schooling and a year of intern experience, you could get an entry-level job as a paralegal with a law firm or an agency of some kind. Higher-level jobs could require three to five years of experience.
An intern would help paralegals do their job by assisting in things like research or getting reports ready.
Do You Have to Be Licensed or Certified?
You do not have to have a Texas paralegal license or certification to be a legal assistant in Texas. Paralegal certification in Texas is still recommended by The State Bar of Texas, whether that be by the state or a national organization. For certification, you must pass an exam in your area of specialization.
The Texas Board of Legal Specialization is a state agency that offers paralegal certification. This serves as a Texas paralegal license that is recognized though not required by law. You may do this in person in Texas, or get paralegal certification Texas onlne. The National Federation of Paralegal Association, or the National Association of Legal Assistants, offers national certification. The state also offers yearly certification exams as well.
The state board offers Texas paralegal certification in Texas in areas of specialization, such as real estate law, family law, criminal law, and several others. You may take an exam to be a general law clerk or paralegal, or for one of the several specialties
You may take the state board exam to get Texas paralegal certification for the state of Texas. You may also take one of the national board exams to get certified nationally. This would qualify you to work in any state. Some states require that you be certified.
The workplace has changed in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Paralegal certification Texas online is now the common way to get certified. Remote working has also become more common in this field as a result of the pandemic.
What Career Opportunities are Available?
Paralegals generally assist attorneys in legal matters, but a paralegal can work in any area that involves the law. You may work for anyone as a legal assistant with a general national certification, or in Texas without the certification.
Some corporations have a legal department and would need a paralegal to help attorneys on staff do their job. Hospitals, social agencies, human resource departments are all areas that can use a paralegal.
Another option is to choose a specialization area, where you will become an expert in a specific area of the law. Here are some examples. To qualify for specialization you must complete at least 30 hours of education in the specialty area and have five years of legal experience. Three of those years should be in the specialty area you have chosen.
Here are some example of possible specializations, and there could be more to choose from as you grow in your paralegal career.
- Litigation. In this area, you work with lawyers who take cases to trial. This can be prosecution of defense. This would be a busy job, helping attorneys prepare for their case, from pleadings to discovery, and through the trial itself.
- Criminal law, which is a sub-specialization of litigation. In this area, you would help either the prosecution or the defense build the case for trial.
- Civil law is also similar to litigation but involves cases that are not a matter of whether someone broke the law. Civil cases are when people sue each other for various reasons.
- Government agencies. Any government agency is going to have a legal department and will need help with legal research, and with putting cases together. This can also include law enforcement and politicians.
- Labor Law. This can involve working for lawyers, or for corporations, dealing with all the various aspects of labor law. This would be working on legal aspects of working conditions, discrimination, fair payment, and other legal disputes between employer and employee
- Estate planning and probate. In this specialty, paralegals work with attorneys and the families they represent. It involves estates of any size and can involve auditors and trustees.
- Bankruptcy is a specialty that helps attorneys who work with bankruptcy cases.
- Family law is a wide area that would involve any kind of law dealing with family situations.
What is the Difference Between a Legal Assistant and a Paralegal?
The two are very similar but have some important differences. A legal assistant is sometimes called an administrative assistant or secretary. A paralegal is more involved with actual law and research.
A legal assistant may not require much legal training but needs to have all the administrative skills possible. The legal assistant would need to be computer-literate, know how to type and be able to organize things.
The paralegal would be involved in actual legal cases more, and work more closely with the attorneys on cases.
A legal assistant could be a step toward becoming a paralegal. The legal assistant experience could also count as experience that firms are looking for in a paralegal person.
How is the Job Market for Paralegals in Texas?
Texas has the fourth-highest number of paralegals among all the states in America, so there are plenty of paralegal jobs in Texas. There are about 20,000 paralegals in Texas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The BLS also predicts a 22 percent increase in the need for more paralegals in Texas through 2026. This is above the national average projection of 15 percent for the same time period. This is much higher than the job outlook for many states regardless of the field.
Paralegals should find themselves in demand for paralegal jobs in Texas for the next several years at least.
Dallas and Houston, along with San Antonio to some degree, have dense areas of prestigious law firms and consistent availability of Texas paralegal jobs. There are a lot of law firms, which means a lot of paralegals are needed. This usually has the effect of making Texas paralegal salary increase as demand for service is higher.
How Much Can I Make as a Paralegal?
The outlook for Texas paralegal jobs is good the larger cities in Texas for paralegals, and Texas paralegal salary is good as well.
Texas paralegal salary averages $54,000 in Texas. That is 19th nationally by state, but almost at the national average of $55,000 according to the BLS. Larger cities tend to pay more than small towns or rural areas. Paralegals average $55,000 in Dallas, for example. Across the state, the salary can range from $35,000 to $71,000.
Texas is at or just below the national average, and that is still good for Texas because the cost of living is lower than many states.
Pay tends to increase significantly as a person gains experience. Entry-level paralegals in Dallas, average $36,000. After about four years that salary should increase to an average of $43,000. After 10 years it should average $54,000, and near the end of a career, a paralegal should be making $68,000. Paralegals in Houston make slightly more than paralegals in Dallas, and it would be lower in smaller cities.
In larger law firms or offices, there may be a senior paralegal, who is in charge of all the other paralegals. This person should be making $70,000 or more. Senior litigation paralegals and senior corporate paralegals would be making about $60,000. Paralegals with various specializations, litigation paralegals, and corporate paralegals would all report to a senior paralegal.
As of 2018, Dallas had the greatest concentration of law firms, with 6,600 people working as paralegals or legal assistants. The average pay was $61,320. Houston was close behind with 5,940 people employed, and an average salary of $61,770. In Austin, there are 3,410 people employed as paralegals and the average pay is $50,000. In the San Antonio area, there are 1890 people employed with an average salary o $45,000.