Paralegal: A Professional Career Option
A “paralegal” is a professional who is trained to handle certain law-related responsibilities as an integral member of a legal staff. A paralegal is not admitted to the practice of law in Texas but has, through education, training and experience, demonstrated knowledge of the legal system, legal principles and procedures and uses such knowledge in rendering paralegal assistance to an attorney in the representation of that attorney’s clients. The functions of a paralegal are limited only to the extent that they are limited by law. The properly trained paralegal may, under the supervision of a lawyer, perform a variety of functions that include researching legal issues, drafting documents, managing complex files, developing legal practice systems, interviewing witnesses, conducting fact investigations, summarizing depositions, and assisting the attorney in and out of the courtroom.
The State Bar of Texas has approved the recognition of paralegals as specialists in specific areas of law through an examination administered by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. The State Bar of Texas also sponsors continuing education seminars for paralegals, has appointed a Standing Committee on Paralegals, and has set up a special Paralegals Division of the State Bar. The support of the State Bar continues to benefit both the bar membership and the paralegal profession.
As a result of the increasing recognition and professional training of paralegals, private law firms, public interest law firms, administrative agencies, business organizations, insurance companies, and banks are utilizing the skills of professional paralegals to aid them in delivering competent legal services to their clients. The utilization of a competent paralegal results in improving and expediting legal services. It also allows legal services to be offered to the public at a reduced rate, thus making them more readily available.
A paralegal, as opposed to a member of the clerical staff, is not merely a necessary overhead expense for the firm or business. A paralegal, effectively utilized, is an income-producing asset to the employer. The paralegal profession is a promising field for an individual interested in pursuing a career in the legal working environment. It can offer variety, excitement, stimulation, security, challenge, and flexibility for a properly trained, professional paralegal.
Types of Training Programs Available
There are more than 500 paralegal programs in the United States. Each program is designed to meet the needs of various geographic areas and students. Some programs are designed for the high school graduate entering a junior college for a two-year degree.
Other programs offer a four-year degree with a major or concentration in paralegal studies. Still others are located within continuing education divisions. The program at Texas State is a graduate study program in which a student, after receiving a bachelor’s degree, enters a concentrated post-graduate course of study and earns a professional certificate, along with a master's degree.
Paralegal programs can be distinguished as either a “proprietary” school, which is a business and not connected with an educational institution or funded by tax revenue, or an educational program connected with a college or university whose curriculum, faculty, and goals are regulated by the state.
Paralegal Studies Program
Our program is unique because we have one of the few professional certificate programs offered by a university at the graduate level. Our program is offered through the Department of Political Science and the Graduate College. We must comply with strict requirements regarding our curriculum, our faculty, and the type of student entering our program. The program consists of 24 graduate level hours and may be completed in two or more semesters.
As a result of the inherent structure of our program, we offer one of the best professional paralegal programs in the state of Texas and in the United States. Our program is superior for at least three reasons:
- the type of student entering the program (see admission requirements).
- the balanced curriculum offered.
- the faculty teaching in the program. (Each of our faculty instructors has had experience as a practicing attorney, and all have experience working with paralegals.
Also, our program has been approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) and is an institutional member of the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE).
Objectives of the Paralegal Studies Program
- Each student will acquire fundamental knowledge and practical skills in legal theory, legal research, litigation, and in substantive areas of law.
- Each student, in every course, will acquire a working knowledge of relevant legal theory and practical skills necessary to perform professional paralegal functions in that area of law, including computer research skills.
- Each student will be encouraged to develop a professional attitude about the responsibilities of a paralegal in the legal working environment and, at the same time, recognize the worth of all other professional and staff members of the work team.
- Each student will be instructed concerning the ethical use of paralegal training and skills in the legal working environment.
- Each student, in the course of classroom study, will develop practical skills that will allow them, upon receiving a certificate and proper utilization, to become an income-producing asset to an employer.
- Placement assistance will be available to assist each student in locating and securing a satisfying position in the legal working environment.
Underlying each of the aforementioned objectives is the dedication of the university, The Graduate College, the Department of Political Science, and the legal studies faculty to the effective utilization of competent paralegals. This dedication helps to ensure the availability of legal services to the public, to fulfill the needs of the citizens of Texas, and to develop and maintain a high quality educational program for the students at Texas State University.
Concurrent Enrollment in Master's Program
All applicants to the certificate program must be concurrently admitted to the master's degree program in legal studies, which has the same admission requirements.
Application deadlines and admission requirements are available here.
The paralegal certificate program is approved by the American Bar Association. The paralegal certificate program does not qualify a person to practice law.