Becoming a certified paralegal is no easy feat. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), certification is, “a process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition to an individual who has met certain predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association.” There are several paralegal titles, each of which has a different professional designation.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) issues the certified paralegal title (CP). To achieve the CP designation, paralegals must meet all eligibility requirements, then sit for, and pass a comprehensive exam. The examination is two days long and covers a variety of legal material. The first day of the examination includes communications, ethics, legal research, human relations and interviewing, judgment and analytical ability and finally, legal terminology. The second day, the examination covers substantive law, including the American legal system and four additional areas of substantive law from which each paralegal may select for their exam.
A combination of eligibility requirements must be met in order to sit for the NALA certification exam. The first option is a high school diploma, at least seven years of experience as a paralegal under an attorney who is a member of the ABA, and twenty hours of continuing education credits completed within the two years prior to sitting for the exam. The second option is for the individual to have a bachelor’s degree in any subject plus at least one year of experience in a law firm under an attorney member of the ABA. The final option is for the individual to have an associate’s degree from an ABA-approved program or a post-baccalaureate certificate from an ABA-approved program.
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) issues the registered paralegal title (RP). To be designated as an RP, paralegals must meet eligibility requirements, sit for, and pass the Paralegal Advanced Competency Examination (PACE). This examination also has two sections. The first has general questions on legal matters, including ethics. The second focuses on specialty issues, and possibly state specific matters.
To be eligible to sit for PACE, paralegals must have one of the following combinations of requirements: four years of substantive legal experience prior to December 31, 2000; a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from an ABA-approved program and two years of legal experience; a bachelor’s degree in any subject plus three years of paralegal experience; or an associate’s degree from an ABA-approved program and six years of legal experience. This is the second most common designation for paralegals.
The National Association for Legal Professionals (NALS, previously National Association of Legal Secretaries) has three separate examinations and titles: ALS (basic legal professional), PP (paralegal), and PLS (advanced certification). In most cases, paralegals will concern themselves only with the PP. This examination has four sections, communications, legal knowledge, ethics, and substantive law. A paralegal may retake any failed portions. To be eligible for this exam, a paralegal with a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies must also have three years experience, a paralegal with another degree must have four years legal experience, or a paralegal with no degree must have five years experience.
The final designation available is through the American Alliance of Paralegals (AAP). There is no exam for this membership title, but paralegals must meet one of the following: a bachelor’s or associate’s degree from an ABA-approved institution or a paralegal certificate from an ABA-approved institution. The paralegal will also need official educational transcripts, processing and membership fees, and an affidavit from an attorney who is a member of the ABA attesting to work experience.
Paralegal Regulation by State