Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal (CLA/CP)
For paralegals who wish to obtain the “Certified Paralegal” designation, the NALA website offers a variety of administrative details as well as guidance for those taking the examination. According to www.nala.org, to be eligible to sit for the Certified Legal Assistant/Paralegal exam, individuals must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- Be a graduate of one of the following: a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association, an Associate’s degree program, a post-baccalaureate certificate program in legal assistant studies, a bachelor’s degree program in legal assistant studies, or a legal assistant program which consists of a minimum of 60 semester hours (900 clock hours or 90 quarter hours) of which at least 15 semester hours (225 clock hours or 22.5 quarter hours) consist of substantive legal classes;
- Possess a Bachelor’s degree in any field, plus one year of paralegal experience (or in the alternative to experience, successful completion of at least 15 semester hours (or 22.5 quarter hours or 225 clock hours) of substantive paralegal courses;
- A high school diploma or equivalent (General Education degree) plus seven years experience as a paralegal under the supervision of a member of the Bar, plus evidence of a minimum of 20 hours of continuing legal education credit to have been completed within a two year period prior to the CLA/CP exam date.
The CLA/CP examination is offered three times a year, in March or April, July, and December. Application forms may be obtained on the NALA website. Testing centers are usually schools, community colleges, universities, or even conference rooms in law firms that have been given prior approval by NALA. Although all testing center locations are subject to minimum registration, NALA will establish testing centers in cities where 10 or more paralegals apply.
The fee for the CLA/CP examination is $250 for NALA members and $275 for non-members. Retake fees are $60 per section. Under the new licensing and certification benefit, the CLA/CP examination program has been approved by the Veterans Administration, and the VA will now pay the examination fee for qualified veterans.
NALA publishes several publications which may be obtained by those wishing to prepare for the CLA/CP exam: NALA Manual for Paralegals, authored by NALA members; CLA Study Guide and Mock Exam, Fourth Edition, authored by NALA members and contributors; and CLA Review Manual, Second Edition, authored by Virginia Koerselman.
The CLA examination is divided into five sections, and a minimum passing score of 70% is required on all sections in order to earn the Certified Paralegal designation. Examinees respond to true/false, multiple choice and matching questions requiring knowledge of the subject and reading comprehension skills. Analytical skills and writing abilities are measured with essay questions. The sections of the examination are communications, ethics, legal research, judgment and analytical ability, and substantive law. Those taking the exam are required to choose four areas of law that they wish to be tested on from a list of nine:
- Administrative Law
- Business Organizations
- Civil Litigation
- Criminal Law and Procedure
- Estate Planning and Probate
- Family Law
- Real Estate
Paralegals with an interest in one or more of these areas of law benefit from choosing to be certified in one of these areas, as do those who currently practice in them. While certification is voluntary, job-seeking paralegals that can put “CP” or “CLA” behind their name often have an edge, just as certified paralegals are often an employer’s choice for promotion above their non-certified counterparts.
Paralegals who obtain their certification through NALA have five years to earn the required 50 hours of certified legal education credit. This credit can be earned through NALA’s online educational offerings, which include self-study courses and “live” online classes, or through legal seminars and classes given by local, state, and national bar and paralegal associations or other organizations. To determine whether or not a seminar or class will qualify as “Certified Legal Education” or CLE, certified paralegals are asked to send a copy of the seminar or course brochure to NALA Headquarters for evaluation before they pay for the course to make sure it will count!
NALA also offers another professional designation, the “Advanced Paralegal Certification,” a web and curriculum based certification program for certified paralegals who wish to become certified in one of the specialty areas available, including Alternative Dispute Resolution, Business Organizations: Incorporated Entities, Contract Management, Discovery, Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Trademarks, and Trial Practice.