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How to become a paralegal in Texas
Given its sheer size, it’s not surprising that Texas is the state with the fourth-largest employment of paralegals and legal assistants in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But if you do want to be a paralegal in such a big state, where do you begin?
The Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas encourages attorneys to hire paralegals with a certain combination of education and experience to promote quality legal services in the state. Texan paralegals also have the unique opportunity for specialty certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS).
Steps to become a paralegal in Texas
Earn a degree.
Most paralegal positions require or prefer candidates to have a college degree. An associate or bachelor’s degree from a paralegal studies program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) may be especially beneficial to a prospective paralegal, but is not required. A degree in a similar subject such as criminal justice, business or communications can also set you up for success.
Consider a professional certificate from a paralegal program.
Having a professional certificate from an ABA-approved paralegal program can be especially useful to those with a degree in another subject, or for paralegals who just want to enhance their skills and boost their credentials. These certificate programs typically require that you already have an associate or bachelor’s degree.
Once you’ve completed your education, it’s time to start gaining experience. Job qualifications vary and depend on the needs and preferences of the individual employer. If you have no prior working experience, you may need to put in some time at a law office or other administrative setting before you are hired as a paralegal.
Look at specialty certifications from the TBLS.
The Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS) offers certifications for paralegals in eight different specialties. To qualify, you need to satisfy several requirements which include having at least five years of experience working as a paralegal and pass a four-hour written exam. Having a TBLS certification may make you a more desirable job candidate.
Education and experience
Texas has no educational requirements to be a paralegal. Paralegals come from a variety of backgrounds, but there are some ways that people make themselves stand out as competent paralegals. A degree in paralegal studies approved by the ABA is a great place to start, but isn’t the only option. If you already have a degree, then an ABA-approved paralegal certificate is another alternative. These certificate programs vary in the length of time they take to complete, but many typically last 12-24 months.
Amber Haney, a paralegal in Texas with over 20 years of experience and a former President of the Capital Area Paralegal Association, said that gaining experience and utilizing your resources are most important to landing that first paralegal job regardless of your education.
“The truth is that getting your feet wet may be being a receptionist or a file clerk. Getting your feet in the door of a law office is the most important thing to do. Joining a paralegal or legal assistant association is also a great benefit,” Haney said. “What’s most important is getting in the door at a law firm.”
After accruing experience as a paralegal for some time, earning a national paralegal certification is another way to demonstrate your competency to employers. Two widely recognized certifications are the Certified Paralegal (CP) through the National Association of Legal Assistants or Registered Paralegal (RP) through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA).
Haney said that although these could be a boost to your career, they may not be necessary for everyone. She said that for most paralegals, becoming a Board Certified Paralegal through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS) is probably more valuable.
Certification through the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Texan paralegals have the ability to become a Board Certified Paralegal with the TBLS in a specialty area. This is a voluntary certification that is not required but could make you a stand-out paralegal candidate and advance your career. The TBLS offers board certification in eight specialty areas:
- Bankruptcy law
- Civil trial law
- Criminal law
- Estate planning & probate law
- Family law
- Oil, gas and mineral law
- Personal injury trial law
- Real estate law
“It is prestigious,” Haney said. “The specialty designation means that they know their stuff. The most popular ones here are civil litigation and personal injury litigation. The next would be family law. Those are the top three in Texas for sure.”
To be eligible for a specialty certification, the TBLS has the following requirements:
- Have at least five years of paralegal experience (at least three in Texas)
- Currently work under the supervision of a licensed attorney doing business in Texas
- Have at least 50% of paralegal duties concentrated in specialty areas
- Attend continuing education seminars regularly
- Pass a four-hour written examination
In addition to the above, you must successfully complete one of the following:
- NALA certification
- Bachelor’s or higher degree
- ABA approved paralegal program
- Paralegal program consisting of a minimum of 60 semester credit hours of which 18 hours are substantive legal courses
- Paralegal program consisting of a minimum of 18 semester credit hours of which 18 hours are substantive legal courses in addition to a minimum of 45 semester credit hours of general college curriculum courses
- Two additional years of actual paralegal experience under the supervision of a licensed attorney
Texas paralegal salary
The annual median wage for paralegals in Texas may not be as high as states like California or Washington, but your salary as a paralegal depends on many different factors.
Location is an important one—you may be able to earn more in the metropolitan areas surrounding the cities of Dallas, Austin and Houston, which have the highest annual mean wages in the state. Dallas is also the metro area that employs the most paralegals, followed by Houston. Here are salaries for paralegals in the state of Texas and the top paying metropolitan areas.
Median Hourly Wage$24
|Metro area||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|Austin-Round Rock, TX||$60,010||$37,460||$79,260|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||$59,590||$38,000||$90,580|
|Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||$59,440||$36,880||$92,800|
|San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||$48,070||$28,610||$75,690|
|Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX||$47,310||$31,110||$71,290|
|Corpus Christi, TX||$47,040||$35,650||$72,740|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
If you are hoping to increase your salary long term, Haney said that experience is key.
“As far as increasing your earning potential, that’s where that TBLS certification specialization could help you,” Haney said. “Otherwise just getting years in the field. What we have here is a paralegal market where we have way more lawyers than we have paralegals.”