Types of Paralegals

Registered Paralegal (RP)

Like NALA, The National Federation of Paralegal Associations sponsors a nationally-recognized certification exam for paralegals: The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). Successful completion of the PACE exam entitles the paralegal to use the Registered Paralegal (RP) credential. According to the NFPA website, the purpose of PACE is to:

  • to provide the groundwork for expanding paralegal roles and responsibilities;
  • to provide the public and legal community with a mechanism to gauge the competency of experienced paralegals; and,
  • to be used in states considering the regulation of paralegals.
Paralegal Work Map Graphic

To sit for the PACE exam, NFPA requires paralegals to possess one of the following:

  • an Associate’s degree in paralegal studies obtained from an institutionally accredited and/or ABA approved paralegal program; and six (6) years of substantive paralegal experience;
  • a Bachelor’s degree in any course of study obtained from an institutionally accredited school; and three (3) years of substantive paralegal experience;
  • a Bachelor’s degree and completion of a paralegal program from an institutionally accredited school, said paralegal program may be embedded in a bachelor’s degree; and two (2) years of substantive paralegal experience;
  • four (4) years substantive paralegal experience on or before December 31, 2000;

One additional note: to be eligible to take the PACE exam, the paralegal cannot have been convicted of a felony or be under suspension, termination or revocation of a certificate, registration or license by any entity.

According to NFPA, the PACE exam covers the tasks that all experienced paralegals routinely perform, regardless of the practice area in which they work or geographic region in which they live. The five task areas that paralegals must know to pass the PACE exam include administration of client legal matters, development of client legal matters, factual and legal research, factual and legal writing, and office administration. Ethics, technology, and legal terminology are included in all of the above subject areas.

Like NALA’s CLA/CP examination, the PACE exam is voluntary. It contains 200 multiple choice questions, does not include a writing section, and examinees have four hours to complete the test. NFPA offers study materials to help paralegals prepare for the exam, including a PACE study manual and online materials. The PACE examination fee for NFPA members is $225, and $250 for non-NFPA members Examinees must submit the required fee along with their application to take the exam, and once the application has been approved, the exam must be taken within 90 days. To maintain the PACE RP® credential, paralegals are required to obtain 12 hours of continuing legal education, including at least one hour in ethics, every two years.

American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP)

Like the National Association of Legal Assistants and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, the American Alliance has its own voluntary certification program that comes with the designation “American Alliance Certified Paralegal” (AACP). There are currently 65 AACPs in the United States, located in 22 states.

Paralegals who are interested in obtaining certification from the American Alliance must have at least five years of substantive paralegal experience and meet one of the following three educational criteria as well:

  • A Bachelor’s or advanced degree in any discipline from an accredited institution; or
  • An Associate’s degree in paralegal studies from an American Bar Association (ABA) approved paralegal program or a program which is a voting institutional member of the American Association for Paralegal Education; or
  • A Certificate from an ABA approved paralegal program or a program which is a voting institutional member of the American Association for Paralegal Education.

After meeting the above criteria, paralegals will be eligible for certification once they complete a verified application; provide the American Alliance with a certified copy of their official transcript from the paralegal school they attended; include an affidavit from their supervising attorney, confirming their substantive work experience; and pay the processing fee of $75. Unlike NALA and NFPA, there is no examination associated with certification through the American Alliance. Paralegals are only required to provide the proper documentation and fee to obtain certification.

The requirements to maintain AACP certification also differ from those of NALA and NFPA. The American Alliance of Paralegals, Inc. requires every AACP to renew their certification status every two years, and also within two years, to complete eighteen hours of continuing legal education (CLE) through conferences, seminars, and other approved forms of education, with two of the required eighteen hours being in ethics. At the time of renewal, an AACP must be employed as a paralegal.

Professional Paralegal (PP)

Another voluntary certification examination is offered for paralegals by the National Association for Legal Professionals to obtain the Professional Paralegal (PP) designation. To become eligible to take the Professional Paralegal examination, an individual must have five years of experience in the performance of paralegal/legal assistant duties, although a candidate may be eligible for a partial waiver of one year if he has a post-secondary degree, other certification, or a paralegal certificate. A candidate with a paralegal degree may receive a two-year partial waiver of the experience requirement.

The Professional Paralegal exam is presented in four parts: written communications, legal knowledge and skills, ethics and judgment skills, and substantive law. Those passing the exam will receive a certificate which is valid for five years, as well as the ability to use the Professional Paralegal (PP) credential. Recertification is required every five years, along with a total of 75 hours of continuing education.

Advanced California Paralegal Specialization, Inc. (CACPS)

In the state of California, the Commission for Advanced California Paralegal Specialization, Inc. (CACPS), “provides a voluntary, uniform professional credential for those demonstrating an advanced knowledge of California law and procedures and to enhance the quality of services available from California paralegals & legal assistants to the legal community, and to the public which is served,” according to their website at www.cla-cas.org. As a joint effort with NALA, CACPS offers a curriculum-based Internet learning and assessment process for California paralegals wishing to earn the California Advanced Specialist (CAS) credential.

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