Steps to become a Lawyer/Attorney in Texas
Follow the step by step process or choose what situation that best describes you:
- Get my Texas Undergraduate Pre-Law Education
- Take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- Go to Law School in Texas
- Become an Attorney and Take the Texas State Bar Exam
- What Comes After the Texas Bar?
A Law Career in TexasThe American Bar Association reports that there were 78,844 resident and active attorneys practicing in Texas in 2011. The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor notes that in May 2011, two metropolitan areas in Texas were among the highest-paying metropolitan areas in the country for lawyers to work. They were the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area, where lawyers averaged a mean annual salary of $163,810; and the Dallas-Plano-Irving area, where lawyers averaged a mean yearly salary of $142,800. The average lawyer in Texas at that time was making $131,320 per year. Practice areas in a state as large as Texas are numerous and include 21 areas of certification (see Step 4 below) in addition to Native American law, alternative dispute resolution, public utilities, motor vehicles and intellectual property law. If your goal is to become a member of the Texas bar and practice in one of these or another specialty area, keep reading.
Undergraduate Pre-Law Education in Texas
The Texas Board of Law Examiners does not mandate what your undergraduate education must consist of, but because they do require that you graduate from an American Bar Association-approved law school, it follows that you must obtain at least a bachelor’s degree prior to applying to law school.
In order to assure your acceptance into an ABA-accredited law school after graduation, make sure that the undergraduate institution you attend is accredited by a national or regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Requirements and Standards
Requirements and standards for undergraduate education are not mandated by the ABA. They do, however, make some recommendations on the types of training, studies and experiences that will be most helpful to you later on.
ABA-approved law schools will be looking for prospective students who have good comprehension skills, analytical abilities, reasoning skills, and the ability to think deductively, inductively and by analogies. Coursework that could help you hone these skills include English, political science, philosophy, fine arts, foreign languages, world cultures, and human behavior.
Again, the ABA does not state specific majors from which pre-law students should choose. Extrapolating from the above information, however, one can deduce that good majors for pre-law students include philosophy, sociology, political science, psychology, and history.
Pre- Law Advisor
Your undergraduate institution may keep a pre-law advisor on staff. If so, make sure to consult with this valuable resource, who can help guide you in the proper courses, majors and minors you should take to best prepare you for law school.
Texas LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
The Texas Board of Law Examiners requires that you graduate from an ABA-approved law school in order to become a bar member. The first step in this process is to pass the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, as this test is necessary to be admitted into any ABA-approved law school. This standardized test lasts approximately a half day and is offered four times yearly worldwide.
How to prepare
You should be well prepared to take the LSAT if you chose courses wisely while in undergraduate school. However, practice cannot hurt, so the LSAT website provides free study materials, like sample or past LSAT test questions and answers, to assist you in preparing for the exam. Other options for preparation include applying to take a LSAT Prep Course or seminar (at a cost) found within Texas such as:
LSAT Exam Prep Courses in Texas:
- LSAT Course, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi
- LSAT Exam Preparation Course, University of Houston Continuing Education, Houston
- Blueprint LSAT Preparation, Austin, Dallas, and Houston
- LSAT Preparation, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
- LSAT Test Prep, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth
The LSAT is administered each year in June, September or early October, December, and February. It consists of five timed 35-minute sections of multiple-choice questions. Two of these sections are on logical reasoning, one is on reading comprehension, and one is on analytical reasoning. The final of the five sections is the experimental section that is not counted towards your score. However, you will not know which section is the experimental section when taking the test, so pretend that every section counts. The writing section is another addition to the LSAT. While this section is not scored, the ABA-approved law schools to which you apply will see it, so make sure to spend time writing a good essay with proper grammar and spelling.
The LSAT will last three and a half hours, and you will be given a fifteen-minute break between the third and fourth sections of the test. Wrong answers will not count against you, so answer every question, even if you are unsure of the answer. Your score will fall within the range of 120 to 180.
Apply online at the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website to sit for the LSAT. If for some reason you are unable to register online, call LSAC's Candidate Services Representatives at 215-968-1001 to register to take the test. Examination centers in Texas from which you may choose include:
- Abilene Christian University, Abilene
- Sul Ross State University, Alpine
- University of Texas – Arlington
- Austin Community College, Austin
- Huston – Tillotson University, Austin
- Lamar University, Beaumont
- University of Texas at Austin
- University of Mary Hardin – Baylor
- West Texas A&M University, Canyon
- Texas A&M University, College Station
- Texas A&M University – Commerce
- Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
- Bill J. Priest Institute, Dallas
- Southern Methodist University, Dallas
- University of North Texas, Denton
- University of Texas – Pan American, Edinburg
- University of Texas at El Paso
- Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, Fort Worth
- Galveston College, Galveston
- Southwestern University, Georgetown
- Jarvis Christian University, Hawkins
- South Texas College of Law, Houston
- Texas Southern University, Houston
- University of Houston, Houston
- University of Houston – Clear Lake, Houston
- University of Houston – Downtown, Houston
- Sam Houston State University, Huntsville
- University of Dallas, Irving
- Texas A&M University – Kingsville
- Texas A&M International University, Laredo
- Texas Tech University, Lubbock
- Collin Higher Education Center, McKinney
- Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches
- University of Texas of Permian Basin, Odessa
- Prairie View A&M University, Prairie View
- Angelo State University, San Angelo
- University of Incarnate Word, San Antonio
- Saint Mary’s University, San Antonio
- University of Texas at San Antonio
- San Antonio College, San Antonio
- Texas A&M University – Texarkana
- College of the Mainland, Texas City
- University of Houston – Victoria
- Baylor University, Waco
- Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls
When you register online to take the LSAT, you will pay a fee of $160. Alternatively, you may pay this fee by check or money order payable to the Law School Admission Council. Instructions on how to do so will be given to you when you register online.
Receiving Your Score
You will receive your LSAT score about three weeks after the day of the exam, via email. It is based upon the number of questions that you answered correctly. Therefore, your LSAT score can only go up when you answer a question. Your LSAT score will become a part of your permanent record, and your most recent LSAT score report will include the past 12 times you took the LSAT. This score report is sent to the admissions offices of the law schools to which you apply. Law schools tend to review your LSAT score report for consistency among scores, so the fewer times you take the LSAT, the better your chances of gaining admission to the ABA-approved law school of your choice.
Average LSAT Scores for Law School Admissions in Texas
According to Internet Legal Research Group (ILRG), the average low and high LSAT scores in 2009 of students accepted at some of the most popular law schools in Texas were:
- University of Texas School of Law, Austin: Low of 163, high of 168
- University of Houston Law Center, Houston: Low of 158, high of 163
- Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, Fort Worth: Low of 152, high of 156
- Texas Tech University School of Law, Lubbock: Low of 151, high of 157
- South Texas College of Law, Houston: Low of 150, high of 155
- Texas Southern University-Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Houston: Low of 146, high of 151
Law Schools in Texas
You have passed the LSAT! Well done! Now you are ready to apply to American Bar Association-approved law schools, as the Texas Board of Law Examiners says that you must graduate from an ABA-approved law school to become a member of the Texas bar. Various schools require different services, but most ABA-approved schools require that you use the LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service (CAS) when you apply. See if your law school is on this list and what its requirements are.
Credential Assembly Service
The LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service streamlines the application process, as they handle many of the details for you and apply electronically to the law schools you choose. You must pay the LSAT a fee of $155 for the CAS, and for that fee, the CAS will collect your transcripts, letters of recommendation, online evaluations, and create law school reports for the schools to which you choose to apply.
Official transcripts from all schools you have ever attended, whether or not you received a degree, must be sent directly to Law School Admission Council,662 Penn Street,PO BOX 2000-M,Newtown PA 18940-0993. If you attended any institutions outside of the country, have these transcripts mailed to Law School Admission Council, 662 Penn Street, PO BOX 8502, Newtown PA 18940-8502.
Let the LSAC’s CAS know who has agreed to provide letters of recommendation for you. Print forms on the LSAC’s website to give to each recommender, who must submit a form with his or her recommendation letter. You may also submit requests for online evaluations of your work through the LSAC’s CAS. They will contact your evaluators directly to request online evaluations.
Finally, the LSAC’s CAS will assemble all necessary documents and apply electronically to the law schools you choose.
The Texas Board of Law Examiners expects you to graduate from an ABA-accredited law school in the United States if you wish to gain bar admission in Texas. There are 200 law schools in the U.S. that are ABA-accredited, and they are listed in the ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. Nine of these schools are in Texas.
ABA-Accredited Law Schools in Texas
- Baylor University School of Law, 1114 South University Parks Drive, One Bear Place #97288, Waco, TX 76798-7288
- University of Houston Law Center, 100 Law Center, Houston, TX 77204-6060
- St. Mary’s University School of Law, One Camino Santa Maria, San Antonio, TX 78228-8601
- SMU Dedman School of Law, Office of Admissions, PO Box 750110, Dallas, TX 75275-0110
- South Texas College of Law, 1303 San Jacinto Street, Houston, TX 77002-7006
- University of Texas School of Law, 727 East Dean Keeton Street, Austin, TX 78705
- Texas Southern University-Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Office of Admissions, 3100 Cleburne, Houston, TX 77004
- Texas Tech University School of Law, 1802 Hartford Avenue, Lubbock, TX 79409
- Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, 1515 Commerce Street, Office of Admissions, Fort Worth, TX 76102
ABA Standard 302 requires approved law schools to include the following coursework in their curricula:
- Substantive law
- Legal analysis/reasoning
- Legal research
- Problem solving
- Oral communication
- Writing in a legal context
- History, goal, structure, values, rules and responsibilities of the legal profession based upon the Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association
- Other professional skills necessary for attorneys (information technology, etc)
- Real-life, live client experiences which may consist of field placement, internships, externships, moot court, and/or pro bono work
The ABA requires one year of law school to be at least 130 days long (over eight months). You must be in law school for at least 24 months to receive a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, but not more than 84 months. Credits necessary for a J.D. degree, under ABA rules, are 83 semester hours or 129-quarter hours.
Online Law Degrees
The Texas Board of Law Examiners says that you must graduate from an ABA-approved law school with a J.D. degree in order to become a member of the bar. There are other degree options for law students in Texas, however, some of them incorporating dual majors for extra marketability as an attorney:
- J.D./M.B.A. – law degree combined with Master in Business Administration
- J.D./M.D. – law degree combined with Doctor of Medicine degree
- J.D./M.P.A.-law degree combined with Master in Public Administration
- J.D./M.Engr.-law degree combined with Master in Engineering
- J.D./M.S. – law degree combined with Master of Science, which can be in many areas including Master of Science in Accounting, Master of Science in Personal Financial Planning, Master of Science in Biotechnology, Master of Science in Crop Science, Master of Science in Horticultural Services, and Master of Science in Environmental Toxicology
Filing Declaration of Intent
Once you are enrolled in an ABA-approved law school, file the Declaration of Intent to Study Law with the Texas Board of Law Examiners. You must complete the application, sign all authorization/release forms included and mail them along with any supporting documentation required and a fee of $190 (payable by cashier’s check, money order or certified check only) to Board of Law Examiners, P.O. Box 13486, Austin, TX 78711-3486. Also, complete the directions to have the FBI Fingerprint Check performed. This will carry an additional fee, payable to the local law enforcement agency that takes your fingerprints.
Documents that you may need to mail along with the Declaration include Continuation Forms (if necessary to explain any answers), Civil Litigation Forms, Criminal History Forms, certified copy of your birth certificate, signed copies of applications to each law school you have attended, court records etc. The Board must receive these supporting documents within 30 days of filing your Declaration.
Take the Texas State Bar Exam
If you are at least 18 years old, have graduated from an ABA-approved law school with your J.D. degree, and are a U.S. citizen or legalized national/resident alien, you may now apply to take the Texas Bar Examination. It takes three days to complete, and is offered in late February/early March and late July/early August each year.
Preparing for the Texas Bar Exam is vital to your success at passing it on the first try. The exam consists of four parts: Procedure/Evidence Exam, Multistate Performance Test (MPT), Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) and Texas Essay Exam. As the last two sections are administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBEX), study aids to help you pass these exams are found at the National Conference of Bar Examiners website. Additionally, the Texas Board of Law Examiners posts selected questions and answers from past Procedure/Evidence and Essay Exams at its website.
Bar exam preparation courses are also available throughout Texas, at a cost:
- Texas Bar Flash – offers a study guide for the essay portion of the test
- Adaptibar – offers simulated online tests and answers
- Southwest Bar Review – offers group classes to prepare for the Texas Bar Exam
- BarOutlines.com – offers online preparation for the bar exam from Texas attorneys
- Reed Bar Review – offers preparation for the MBE, MPT and Texas Bar Exam
Various subjects are covered in the three parts of the Texas Bar Exam. The Texas Essay Exam may ask you questions on any of the following topics:
- Business associations
- Guardianships and trusts
- Family law
- Wills and administration
- Uniform Commercial Code
- Real property
- Consumer rights
The Procedure/Evidence Exam asks you 40 short-answer questions on Texas civil procedure and evidence as well as both Federal and Texas criminal procedure and evidence.
The Multistate Performance Test (MPT) provides you with a file of source documents and a library of cases, rules and statutes. Using these resources, you must perform assigned tasks such as writing briefs, memoranda, letters, contracts, and/or proposals.
The Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) portion of the exam consists of multiple-choice questions on any of the following subjects:
- Constitutional law
- Criminal law
- Real property
When you are ready to apply to take the Texas Bar Exam, make sure to use the proper application form and to provide your LSAC account number when requested:
- Use the In-State Student Application to Take the Texas Bar Exam if your J.D. degree was (or will be) from an ABA-approved Texas law school
- Use the General Application for Admission if you are/will graduate with a J.D. degree from an ABA-approved law school outside of Texas, you are a licensed attorney taking the Texas Bar exam for the first time, you are a licensed attorney applying for admission without examination, or you are a former Texas attorney seeking reinstatement and applying to take the Texas Bar exam.
- Use the Reapplication to Take the Texas Bar Exam if you have applied for or taken the Texas Bar Exam previously
- If you wish to use your Laptop to take the exam, in addition to filing the proper application form, file the Laptop Application Form (and enclose an extra $50 fee via cashier’s or certified check or money order payable to the Board of Law Examiners)
In addition to the forms you provided with your Declaration, you must also provide a recent photograph of yourself, passport-sized; and indicate your preferred exam site (Austin, Arlington, Houston, San Antonio, Lubbock or Waco). Mail all information to Board of Law Examiners, P.O. Box 13486, Austin, TX 78711-3486.
Fees and Deadlines
All fees are payable by cashier’s check, certified check or money order only to the Board of Law Examiners. If you are a Texas law student, the application, examination and investigation fees combined total $320; for out-of-state law students, the total fee is $435. The late filing fee of $150 applies if you file after October 30 for the February exam or after March 30 for the July exam.
According to statistics gathered by AmeriBar, the passing rate for first time test takers on the February 2011 Texas Bar Exam was 84 percent. In July 2010, it was also 84 percent.
Under the Texas Government Code, the Board of Law Examiners may provide law schools who are doing research on information about the results of a bar examination and the achievement of particular applicants on that examination. If you wish to be exempt from releasing your identity, you may complete the “Exemption from Release of Bar Examination Results” form. This form must be received by the Board before you take the bar exam.
Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
In addition to passing the Texas Bar Exam, you must also pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBEX) with a scaled score of at least 85. This exam may be taken while you are still in law school. Obtain an MPRE application packet from your law school registrar or from the National Conference of Bar Examiners, MPRE Application Department, P.O. Box 4001, Iowa City, IA 52243. You must pass the MPRE no later than two years after you pass the Texas Bar Exam or you will not be allowed to practice law in Texas.
Licensing and Admission to the Bar
When you receive your General Instructions for the Texas Bar Exam, you will be given a General Release date for scores. Your scores will be sent to you via postal mail. Also at the time you receive the General Instructions, a time, date and place for the swearing-in ceremony, should you pass, will be listed. You are not officially a member of the Texas Bar until the swearing-in ceremony is completed.
What Is Next After the Texas Bar?
Congratulations on your recent admission to the Texas Bar! You might want to refer to the New Lawyers section of the Texas Bar website. Many topics of interest are covered here, from compliance issues to law practice management. Information on the Texas Young Lawyers Association is also provided. This professional group can help you with support, assistance and networking opportunities.
Where do you plan to work as you are starting out in Texas law? You could start out on your own in a solo practice, or join an in-house firm. Famous attorney and law firm names heard across Texas include Haynes & Boone, LLP in Dallas; Barrett, Daffin, Frappier, Turner & Engel, LLP in Addison; Stradley, Chernoff & Alford in Houston; Bracewell & Giuliani, LLP in Houston; and Jamail & Kolius in Houston.
The headquarters of many major corporations are also located in Texas, and these types of companies regularly require legal help. Some of the largest (Fortune 500) companies in Texas include ExxonMobil in Irving, ConocoPhillips in Houston, AT&T in Dallas, Valero Energy in San Antonio, Dell in Round Rock, and Marathon Oil in Houston.
The Texas Labor Market Information Tracer projects a 15 percent increase in the number of jobs available for lawyers across Texas from 2008 through 2018.
Legal specialty certification
According to the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, currently more than 70,000 attorneys are licensed to practice in the state of Texas, but only 7000 of them are specialty certified in one of 21 areas of law. The Supreme Court of Texas established the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1974. It is the only governing board with the authority to certify Texas attorneys in legal specialty areas. Certification involves filing an application, completing necessary continuing education, and passing an examination. Areas in which practicing attorneys may become certified include:
- Civil appellate
- Civil trial
- Bankruptcy law
- Consumer and commercial
- Estate planning and probate
- Criminal appellate
- Immigration and nationality
- Oil, gas, mineral
- Labor and employment
- Real estate law
- Farm and ranch
- Personal injury trial
- Workers’ compensation
Requirements for maintaining license
As a newly licensed attorney in Texas, you have two years to complete Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE). Once you have been licensed for two years, you must complete MCLE every year. MCLE that must be completed includes 15 hours, three of which must be in legal ethics or legal professional responsibility. You must report your MCLE hours annually to the Texas Bar.
Court Systems in Texas
The Texas judicial system is a complex one, with five layers of courts, overlapping jurisdictions, and a bifurcated appellate system at the top level.
The Justice of the Peace Courts are the lowest level of the Texas judiciary. They exist in each county, with 820 Justice of the Peace Courts across the state. A directory of these courts may be found here. These courts have in Class C misdemeanor criminal cases (less serious minor offenses), as well as minor civil matters and small claims cases. They may issue search or arrest warrants, and may serve as the coroner in counties if no medical examiner exists.
Municipal Courts are on the next judicial level. They handle crimes relating to public safety and quality of life. They may be found in more than 900 cities and towns across Texas. Find them in this directory.
District Courts are the state trial courts of general jurisdiction in Texas. They have exclusive jurisdiction on felony cases, title to land cases, and cases involving election contesting. They may share jurisdiction with county courts over civil matters and family law matters. Each county must be served by at least one district court. A map of Texas’ district courts is here.
Texas has 14Courts of Appeals, with intermediate appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases (except death penalty cases, which are appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals). The 14 Courts of Appeals include:
- 1st - Houston
- 2nd - Fort Worth
- 3rd - Austin
- 4th - San Antonio
- 5th - Dallas
- 6th - Texarkana
- 7th - Amarillo
- 8th - El Paso
- 9th - Beaumont
- 10th - Waco
- 11th - Eastland
- 12th - Tyler
- 13th - Corpus Christi/Edinburg
- 14th – Houston
Texas has only the second bifurcated appellate system at the highest level in the United States (Oklahoma being the only other state with a similar system). This system is comprised of the Texas Court of Criminal AppealsandTexas Supreme Court.
- The Texas Supreme Court hears appeals involving civil matters and criminal matters if the defendant is a juvenile. The Texas Supreme Court defers to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in matters where the Texas Penal Code must be interpreted. The Supreme Court also is responsible for licensing and discipline of attorneys in the state. It is located in Austin.
- The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hears appeals on criminal cases (except juvenile). Death penalty cases are also appealed directly to this court. It is located in Austin.
Elective membership organizations
Think about becoming a member of a professional membership organization for Texas lawyers such as:
- Texas Trial Lawyers Association
- Texas Employment Lawyers Association
- Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
- Texas Women Lawyers
- Texas District & County Attorneys Association