Recently I have had conversations with paralegals and paralegal students who are interested in taking one of the national paralegal exams. In a former life, I was the National Coordinator for PACE (the “Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam”) for the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (“NFPA”). I helped to design that exam in its beginning stages and wrote the legal writing section of its Study Manual. So PACE and Registered Paralegals are what I know best.
I have many friends who have taken both the Certified Legal Assistant exam created by the National Associations of Legal Assistants (“NALA”) and NFPA’s exam to become Registered Paralegals. Many went on to get further certification in other areas of law, e-discovery, or other fields.
It is not unusual these days to see non-lawyer professionals with long lists of initials after their name. Why are these folks spending the money and time to pass these tests? Maybe their employers asked or required the exams or training to meet their clients’ needs, and they needed someone with those skills. It happens, especially with firms that taken on massive e-discovery projects.
I think the best reason to invest the time and money (and they are not cheap) to take a national paralegal exam is to prove to oneself his or her expertise for their own gratification. Anything else that comes from it is gravy.
Do other paralegals who have passed these tests tell others that they are not really a legal assistant or paralegal if they do not take and pass these tests? Sometimes, I’m sorry to say that happens. I have never understood knocking someone else down to build yourself up, and that is the category where this nonsense belongs.
I am not going to say that one paralegal association’s test is better than another. Both NALA and NFPA have long since established the credentials and worth of their exams. That debate is over — or it should be.
My recommendation is to ignore anyone (other than your employer) who insists that you must take one of these tests to prove your worth or ability. Again, the best reason to take these tests is because you have decided – for your own reasons – that this is what you want. Those who have already passed the tests will hopefully encourage you and support your efforts.
What national test should you take? That is your call. If you are a paralegal worth your chops, you will do your own research and make your own decision after looking at all the pro’s and con’s. It is your money, your time, and your career. Who else should make that decision but you? -CCE