Paralegal Credentialing - Overview

Paralegal Certification, Credentialing, Licensing and Having a Paralegal Certificate

This is frequently a source of confusion. In short:

  • If you have completed a paralegal education program for which you have a certificate hanging on your wall, you could say you are certificated. This is different from being certified.
  • Licensing is how a governmental authority controls certain professions. There is no single authority in the United States which oversees the paralegal profession. Also, at the time of this writing, no state has paralegal licensure. However, as of September 1, 2012 Washington State does have the Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT) program and other states are considering similar programs.
  • If you have successfully passed a paralegal certification exam, such as NFPA's PCCE or PACE, you are certified. This confers a credential which you put after your name, such as Jane Doe, RP®. Maintaining that credential requires ongoing Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and keeping your address current with the organization that issued the credential. These credentials can be verified by prospective employers by contacting the issuing organization. Note that being a certified paralegal (generic term) and being a Certified Paralegal (a credential by NALA) are not necessarily the same, although if you are the latter you are also the former.

See also the American Bar Association's document on this topic. (PDF)

Paralegal Certification Through NFPA

Each state's regulations are unique and employers' requirements vary widely due to the many kinds of work that paralegals can do.  So how do you make yourself stand out as an exceptional paralegal?

One way is by earning a credential which is widely recognized in the field.  NFPA offers two credentialing exams:

  • The Paralegal CORE Competency Exam® establishes your education has prepared you for many types of paralegal work and helps you stand out from others whose schooling and experience are otherwise similar.  Those who have passed the PCCE may proudly display the CRP® designation after their name.
  • The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam® (PACE®) is for those with not only a comprehensive education in paralegal studies but also years of practical experience.  Earning the RP® designation by passing the PACE Exam shows that you are one of the best in the field!

See also this Comparison of National Level Paralegal Certification Exams document. (PDF from April 2014)

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I had a felony conviction. Can I still take PACE or PCCE?
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 or PCCE. Does my law school experience substitute for paralegal experience?
A: The Certification 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 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 or PCCE eligibility?
A: For PACE or PCCE eligibility, it does not matter whether your paralegal school is/was ABA accredited. What does matter is whether your paralegal school is “institutionally accredited.” Please review NFPA's Position Statement on Short-Term Paralegal Programs for further information about the eligibility of your paralegal certificate.

Q: How is part-time experience, or experience as a legal secretary taken into account for PACE or PCCE eligibility?
A: The amount of experience required for eligibility 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 to apply for PACE or PCCE. 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 or PCCE 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 or PCCE, 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 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 Certification 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 (for PACE applicants) or a CORE Registered Paralegal (for PCCE applicants), provided 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 Paralegal Certification for further information.

Q. Can I study the Study Manual (only) and pass the PACE or PCCE exam? 
A: The exams cover an array of areas of law. It is suggested that you refer to the Study Manual as well as supplemental resources that further enforce the sections in the manual. The 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 exam? 
A: Exam review courses are offered by the Advanced Paralegal Institute (PACE and PCCE) and the Paralegal Education Group (PACE and PCCE). Course structure, schedule and costs are detailed on their respective web pages. 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.

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