Over 16,000 people are employed as paralegals in Texas according to the 2011 employment survey performed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas ranks fourth in the nation for number of paralegal jobs, with Houston having the sixth highest employment level of paralegals of the U.S.’s metropolitan areas.
Texas was the first state in the nation to officially recognize paralegals as an integral part of the legal community and to create a Paralegal Division within the State Bar of Texas. Subsequently, the State Bar created a voluntary certification process for paralegals through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS). Specialization certification has been available since 1994.
Because the State Bar of Texas includes paralegals in its membership and has helped create professional pathways for them, it also has taken leadership in developing standards for entering the paralegal profession. These standards call on attorneys to hire paralegals that have one of the following qualifications:
- TBLS specialty certification
- National certification through the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- A bachelor’s or higher degree in any subject AND at least one year of work experience with direct supervision by a licensed attorney while performing substantive legal work AND at least 15 hours of continuing legal education completed annually
- Graduation from an ABA-approved certificate program in paralegal studies
- Completion of a paralegal studies program at an accredited college or university
- Completion of at least four years of substantive legal work experience under the supervision of a licensed attorney
Additionally, the Texas State Bar works to promote professional development in paralegals by recommending that lawyers who employ paralegals encourage them to:
|Texas Job Statistics|
- Attend continuing legal education (CLE) programs
- Earn paralegal board certification through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS)
- Earn national paralegal certification
- Join the Paralegal Division of the State Bar and/or local professional paralegal organizations
Texas Paralegal Education
The Texas State Bar and many of the local professional paralegal associations encourage aspiring paralegals to seek education before looking for employment as paralegals. Many employers desire education as well, as it demonstrates an employee’s commitment to the field and provides a baseline of legal knowledge. Paralegals who may desire national certification or state specialization certification should thoroughly research educational programs to ensure that they are approved by the ABA or offered by an accredited institution. Program rigor can vary greatly.
Is There Paralegal Certification in Texas?
In the paralegal world, the terms certificated, certified and certification are often used interchangeably though they signify different things.
Certificate programs are educational programs that offer a certificate of completion but no degree. Their graduates are considered certificated paralegals. Certificates can be useful to those who already have a degree in another subject and desire focused coursework in paralegal studies to supplement their previous education. Some certificate programs will admit students with no previous higher education who desire a focused course in paralegal studies.
National certification, which is offered by the national professional paralegal associations, is earned through a combination of education, work experience and successful completion of a national exam. Once passing the exam, a paralegal becomes a certified paralegal. Currently there are four exams from which to choose:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations and can be found here.
Texas Board of Legal Specialization certification is offered to experienced paralegals that have chosen to focus their work and continuing education on one area of law. Mirroring the legal specialization certificate available to attorneys, paralegal certification is offered in the areas of civil trial law, criminal law, estate planning and probate law, family law, personal injury trial law, and real estate law. Minimum requirements for taking the specialization certification exam include five years of experience working as a paralegal, with three of those years concentrated on one area of expertise. Additional requirements can be found here.
Texas is home to more than twenty paralegal associations as well as several paralegal divisions of state bar associations. Twenty-five of these organizations have chosen to affiliate as the Texas Alliance of Paralegal Associations (TAPA). A complete listing of affiliates and links to individual websites can be found here. Members of TAPA collaborate to further the development of the paralegal profession, network with paralegals across the state, support continued education and monitor issues affecting paralegals statewide.
Individually, TAPA’s member organizations support their local paralegals and work to establish strong relationships with regional bar associations and others in the legal community. The local professional organizations offer a range of benefits to their members, from networking opportunities to support through the certification process to pro bono community outreach.
In addition to the paralegal professional organizations, membership in the State Bar of Texas’s Paralegal Division is open to paralegals throughout the state. The Paralegal Division works to communicate relevant topics to paralegals throughout the state, increase paralegals’ participation in the justice system, encourage public service and promote high levels of professionalism and ethics.
Large Law Firms
Law firms employ the greatest numbers of paralegals and can be good places to begin a job search. Texas is home to many large law firms, particularly in its metropolitan areas. Such law firms include:
- Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
- Fulbright & Jaworski
- Vinson & Elkins
- Baker Botts
- Jenkens & Gilchrist
- Haynes and Boone
- Locke Liddell & Sapp
- Andrews & Kurth
- Thompson & Knight
- Bracewell & Patterson
- Winstead Sechrest & Minick
- Jackson Walker
- Gardere Wynne Sewell
- Strasburger & Price
- Jones Day
Important Contacts for Paralegals
- Capital Area Paralegal Association (CAPA)
- Dallas Area Paralegal Association (DAPA)
- Houston Metropolitan Paralegal Association (HMPA)
- State Bar of Texas
- State Bar of Texas-Paralegal Division
- State Bar of Texas – Paralegal Standards
- Texas Board of Legal Specialization- Paralegal Certification Process