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 which 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 “paralegal” concept has been endorsed by the legal community as a result of recommendations made by the American Bar Association’s Special Committee on Availability of Legal Services. The Committee’s recommendation is, in part, “that the legal profession recognizes that there are many tasks in serving a client’s needs which can be performed by a trained non-lawyer” and “that the profession encourage the training and employment of such assistants.”
The State Bar of Texas has recently 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 legal assistant.
A student must complete 24 semester credit hours in the Paralegal Studies Certificate Program curriculum, including 15 hours of required courses and 9 hours of elective courses.
The required courses include:
*A student with prior law office experience, may, with permission from the director, participate in a special emphasis practicum 5388 in lieu of an internship.
The student may select any 9 hours out of the following elective courses: