Paralegal Certification - Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam and Credentialing

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About the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam® (PACE®)

At the 1994 mid-year meeting the NFPA membership voted overwhelmingly to develop an exam which could become a standard used by state legislative bodies to gauge the competency level of experienced paralegals.  The PACE program launched in 1996. 

The exam was developed by a professional testing firm in conjunction with an independent task force including paralegals, lawyers, paralegal educators and content specialists from the general public who are legal advocates.  It is administered by computer in a proctored testing facility, consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and must be completed in four hours, although many candidates complete it in two.

The questions are not practice-area specific, but are hypothetical issues testing advanced application of general knowledge, paralegal experience, and critical analysis ability to identify the correct answer. The exam covers tasks that experienced paralegals routinely perform, regardless of the practice area or geographic region in which they live. These tasks were organized into 5 domains: Administration of Client Legal Matters (23%); Development of Client Legal Matters (30%); Factual and Legal Research (22%); Factual and Legal Writing (20.5%), and Office Administration (4.5%).  Ethics are included in all of the above domains, as are technology and terminology.

As the utilization of paralegals increases and the roles they play become more varied, the legal profession has come to recognize the Registered Paralegal (RP®) credential as a signal of excellence.

Requirements to Sit for PACE

Requirements for a paralegal to take PACE include work experience and education. The paralegal cannot have been convicted of a felony nor be under suspension, termination, or revocation of a certificate, registration, or license by any entity.  Additionally, the candidate's experience must meet one of the following four options:

This diagram may help you determine if you are eligible: (click to enlarge)

PACE eligibility flowchart

PACE Study Manual

You can order the Study Manual (6th edition) directly from the publisher, Omnipress, and ordered via this online form. The cost is $75 plus shipping and handling. Note the study manual purchase is separate from the exam application submission fee.  The 6th edition, like the 5th, contains mini-chapters on bankruptcy, corporate law, intellectual property, family law and other areas tested in the current exam. We have also updated the existing chapters, and completely re-written the Intellectual Property chapter. 

If you already have an older edition, be assured that it will still assist you in preparing for the exam. As always, we encourage PACE Candidates to consult other source materials as well as the Study Manual in preparing for the exam, regardless of which edition of the Study Manual they use. 

PACE Review Course by API

The on-line PACE Review Course is jointly offered by NFPA and the Advanced Paralegal Institute and is provided through Computer Mediated Distance Learning. The seven week on-line course prepares candidates to sit for the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam in order to earn the Registered Paralegal designation.  For more information, and/or to register, click here.

Online Practice Exam

Online practice exam containing 100 sample questions. This is a one-time practice exam. The program will advise you of your total score. This great study aid will help you assess your overall knowledge of the material covered on the exam. NFPA does not, however, guarantee that if you pass this practice exam that you will pass PACE. Cost $50. Note: the API PACE Review Course above also contains a (different) practice exam. Students of that course are advised not to take this standalone practice exam.

Take the PACE Online Practice Exam

Applying for and Taking PACE

Candidates may sit for the exam at over 200 Sylvan Technology Centers/Prometric testing sites across the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

The PACE Application (PDF) and Candidate Handbook (PDF) are now available as free downloads. (as of 11/7/2012)  Beginning March 1, 2013, all submitted PACE Applications must enclose payment for the $25 Application Fee.  This may be combined with the $250 ($225 for NFPA members) Examination Fee in a single check. 

Note that all correspondence should go to our street address, not the old P.O. Box.  The correct address for NFPA is:

23607 Highway 99, Suite 2-C
Edmonds, WA 98026

Once the filled-in application and supporting documentation have been received by NFPA headquarters, the payment is processed and the bundle is forwarded to PES.  After reviewing it and making arrangements with Prometric, a candidate eligibility statement is sent to the candidate informing them that they may schedule their appointment with a testing center near them.  This series of events generally takes 20 to 30 days. 

Sylvan Technology Centers/Prometric testing site locator (in Step 1 choose "National Federation of Paralegal Association" from the drop-down list)

Once the eligibility statement is sent, the candidate has 90 days to take the exam.  Upon completion, the preliminary score will be shown immediately.  It is important to note that, preliminary results notwithstanding, the RP designation is not awarded until the results of the entire scoring run have been reviewed.

NFPA receives the scoring runs twice a year (February and August) and, pursuant to the procedures established by the PACE Standards Committee, audits 7% of the exam applications prior to mailing the RP® certificates and credential maintenance instructions to the new Registered Paralegals. This stage of the process may take up to a month.  NFPA maintains a list of active Registered Paralegals on the website.

If a candidate does not pass PACE, there is a six (6) month waiting period, from the date PACE is taken, before the paralegal becomes eligible to re-take PACE. Candidates must submit a completed application and $225 NFPA member fee (or $250 Non-member fee) to re-take PACE. PES will maintain support documentation for a period of two years.

Credential Maintenance

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.  For more information see Maintaining Your Credentials.

Inactive Status

The PACE Standards Committee may grant inactive status to an RP in good standing for a period of up to four (4) years upon submission of a written request showing good cause.

The PACE Standards Committee will provide written notice (via certified mail) to the RP of the following:

A. Action taken;
B. Effective date and time period;
C. CLE obligation;
D. Termination of rights of RP® credential; and
E. Reactivation procedures.

The PACE Standards Committee will reactivate the RP status of an inactive RP upon receipt of a written request to reactivate the status, received at least sixty (60) days prior to the expiration of the inactive time period, and a showing of compliance with registration requirements. RP's on inactive status are required to obtain ½ of the regular CLE requirements.


The PACE Standards Committee shall suspend the RP credential for a period of sixty (60) days based upon any of the following:

A. Failure to file a Registration Statement with NFPA Headquarters;
B. Failure to meet CLE requirements; or
C. Failure to provide evidence of continuing education.

The PACE Standards Committee will provide written notice (via certified mail) to the RP of the action taken, effective date and time period of action, termination of rights to RP credential, requirements for reinstatement, consequence of failure to meet requirements, and appeal procedure.


The PACE Standards Committee shall revoke the RP credential based upon any of the following:

  1. RP's knowingly making a false statement or misrepresentation deemed material to the application or registration statement; or
  2. RP's knowingly and intentionally disclosing any or all test questions; or
  3. RP's suspension, termination, or revocation of a certification, registration, or license to practice by a professional organization, court, disciplinary board or agency in any jurisdiction; or
  4. RP's conviction of a felony or comparable crime as defined by an individual state that does not have a felony designation; or
  5. RP's becoming subject to a second suspension pursuant to Section 6 of the Manual.

The PACE Standards Committee will provide written notice to the RP (via certified mail) of the pending action, grounds for pending action, effective date of action, right to respond to allegations (60 days, in writing, with supporting documents), and deliberation schedule.

The PACE Standards Committee shall consider all responses to notice of intention to revoke the RP credential within sixty (60) days of receipt of response to allegations. After such consideration, the PACE Standards Committee will again provide written notice to the RP (via certified mail). The RP credential will not be revoked and removed from all RP public lists until such time as the RP has been afforded every opportunity to appeal.

Foundation for the Advancement of the Paralegal Profession

The member associations of NFPA resolved in 1995 to create a repository for the proceeds from PACE. The Foundation for the Advancement of the Paralegal Profession (the Foundation or FAPP) operates independently of NFPA.  For more information about FAPP click here or visit the FAPP website at

PACE - Development and History

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I had a felony conviction. Can I still take PACE?
A: The paralegal cannot have been convicted of a felony nor be under suspension, termination, or revocation of a certificate, registration, or license by any entity.

Q: I am an attorney in ____ (insert name of country). I want to take PACE. Does my law school experience substitute for paralegal experience?
A: The PACE Standards Committee has determined that a candidate may use his law school experience to substitute for a paralegal certificate or an AA in paralegal studies. In some circumstances, it may also be used to substitute for the 4 year degree. In no circumstances may it be used to substitute for hands-on, full-time, substantive paralegal experience for purposes of PACE eligibility.

Q: Does a Master’s Degree substitute for a Paralegal Certificate?
A: No, unless the Master’s Degree is in paralegal studies.

Q: My paralegal certificate is not from an ABA approved school. Can I still use it for my PACE eligibility?
A: For PACE eligibility, it does not matter whether your paralegal school is/was ABA accredited. What does matter is whether your paralegal school is “institutionally accredited.”

Q: How is part-time experience, or experience as a legal secretary taken into account for PACE eligibility?
A: The amount of experience required for eligibility for PACE will depend on your particular level of formal, post-high school education. Regardless of the amount of experience, the experience requirement is listed as full-time, substantive paralegal work. If you only worked part-time, you cannot count part time work as full time and the months, days, years will be added to achieve the minimum experience requirement for the eligibility bracket you apply under. For example, a paralegal with a bachelor’s degree and no paralegal certificate needs the equivalent of 3 years of full-time, substantive paralegal work. If he/she only worked ½ time, or if only ½ of the work they did was substantive paralegal work (as opposed to clerical), that candidate would need 6 years of part-time work to qualify.

Q: I have 200 hours of undergraduate college credit but I do not have a bachelor’s degree. Will this substitute for having the degree for PACE eligibility?
A: No, the eligibility requirements are firm. You must have either a Bachelor’s degree (in any subject), an Associate’s Degree in paralegal studies, or a paralegal certificate to take PACE, unless you are eligible under the grandfather clause which allows candidates who had 4 years of full-time, substantive paralegal experience attained before 12/31/2000 to sit for PACE.

Q: My degree was obtained from a college outside of the United States. Will it count for PACE eligibility?
A: It might qualify. Degrees obtained outside the United States must be evaluated by a professional evaluator for their equivalence to U.S. degrees. Paralegal certificates obtained outside the United States must be evaluated by the PACE Standards Committee.

Q: I am not able to get a letter from my former employer because the attorney I worked for has died and (/or) the firm has closed. How do I document my experience?
A: You may also provide a letter from a PACE Registered Paralegal if he/she is familiar with your work and can attest to the length of time and the substantive nature of your work. In cases where it is impossible to obtain this information, you should provide an affidavit explaining the efforts you have taken to obtain the verification letter, and attach as many supporting documents as you can to document your work. You should also consult the Vice President and Director of PACE for further information.

Q. Can I study the PACE Study Manual (only) and pass the PACE exam?
A: The PACE exam covers an array of areas of law. It is suggested that you refer to the PACE Study Manual as well as supplemental resources that further enforce the sections in the manual. The PACE Study Manual contains a listing of various resources for your convenience. The extent to which you might need to consult additional study materials will depend on your own particular experience.

Q: Are there any courses I can take to prepare for the PACE exam?
A: We suggest the Advanced Paralegal Institute PACE Review Course. This is a 7 week on-line course with homework assignments, discussion questions, and an on-line study hall where you can benefit from the varied experiences of paralegals around the country. This is especially beneficial since you need a working knowledge of many practice areas and the focus is national, not state-specific. The course ends in a mock PACE exam and the instructor works with each student to assist them in the areas in which they are weak. Please note that taking the course does not guarantee that you will meet the PACE eligibility requirements, and it does not guarantee a passing score.

Q: What is the on-line practice test and how will it help me study for PACE?
A: NFPA offers an on-line practice exam composed of questions similar to those on the PACE exam. The 100 practice questions are provided in a computer format, and they cover each of the 5 domains, technology, ethics and terminology. The chief advantage of the on-line mock exam is that it identifies the candidate’s weak areas, and provides the questions and correct answer to all questions missed on the mock exam.  Please note that passing this mock exam does not guarantee PACE eligibility or a passing score on the actual exam.

modified 3/5/2015
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