Paralegal Certification - Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam and Credentialing
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:
- An associates degree in paralegal studies obtained from an institutionally accredited school, and/or ABA approved paralegal education program; and six (6) years substantive paralegal experience; OR
- A bachelor's degree in any course of study obtained from an institutionally accredited school and three (3) years of substantive paralegal experience; OR
- A bachelor's degree and completion of a paralegal program with an institutionally accredited school, said paralegal program may be embodied in a bachelor's degree; and two (2) years substantive paralegal experience; OR
- Four (4) years substantive paralegal experience on or before December 31, 2000.
This diagram may help you determine if you are eligible:
PACE Study Manual
You can order the Study Manual (6th edition) via this online form. 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 Courses
Advanced Paralegal Institute (API) and the Paralegal Education Group (PEG) each have an NFPA-approved online PACE Review Course. For more information, and/or to register, click here for details of API’s course or click here for details of PEG’s course.
PACE Practice Test
NFPA offers an online practice test through Prometric. Click the button below for more information and to take the PACE practice test.
Applying for and Taking PACE
Candidates may sit for the exam at over 200 Prometric testing sites across the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The online PACE application process has two steps:
1. Payment of application & exam fee (through this site)
2. Submission of supporting documentation (through an external site, Submittable)
- Each payment receipt contains a link to NFPA’s Submittable site. If this email is not received, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org within 24 hours of payment. Applicants have three (3) days from date of payment to upload and submit exam documentation.
- Applications received after three days of payment will require an additional $25 application fee prior to review. If they don’t have one already, applicants will need to create a free Submittable account to upload their materials. This is a separate account from their NFPA website log-in!
- Applicants may save their work as a draft while gathering materials. Submitted applications will be processed AS IS and those found to have incomplete or unacceptable documentation will be subject to delays or additional fees.
Please review the handbook and eligibility requirements carefully before submitting! Questions regarding eligibility should be directed to the Vice President & Director of Paralegal Certification at email@example.com.
Once the completed application and supporting documentation have been received by NFPA headquarters, the payment is processed, qualifications checked and the candidate information is entered in Prometric's system. After NFPA headquarters receives notice that the candidate information has been accepted by Prometric, an eligibility statement is sent to the candidate by e-mail informing them that they may schedule their appointment with a testing center near them. This series of events generally takes one to two weeks.
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 quarterly and, pursuant to the procedures established by the Certification 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. It is now possible to waive this waiting period at your own risk using this form.
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.
Registered Paralegal (RP) Forms
- Application for CLE Credit (online form)
- PACE Registration Statement and Affidavit of Continuing Education (online form)
- Emeritus Status Application
- Inactive Status Application
- PACE Emeritus Deactivation Application (PDF)
The Certification 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.
NFPA will provide written notice (via e-mail) to the RP of the following:
- Action taken;
- Effective date and time period;
- CLE obligation;
- Termination of rights of RP® credential; and
- Reactivation procedures.
The Certification Standards Committee will reactivate the RP status of an inactive RP upon receipt of a renewal providing documentation of compliance requirements and payment of the appropriate renewal fee(s), received at least sixty (60) days prior to the expiration of the inactive time period. RPs on inactive status are required to obtain ½ of the regular CLE requirements.
The Certification Standards Committee shall suspend the RP credential for a period of sixty (60) days based upon any of the following:
- Failure to file a Registration Statement with NFPA Headquarters;
- Failure to meet CLE requirements; or
- Failure to provide evidence of continuing education.
The Certification Standards Committee will provide written notice (via e-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 Certification Standards Committee shall revoke the RP credential based upon any of the following:
- RPs knowingly making a false statement or misrepresentation deemed material to the application or registration statement; or
- RPs knowingly and intentionally disclosing any or all test questions; or
- RPs 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
- RPs conviction of a felony or comparable crime as defined by an individual state that does not have a felony designation; or
- RPs becoming subject to a second suspension pursuant to Section 6 of the Manual.
The Certification Standards Committee will provide written notice to the RP (via e-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 Certification 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 Certification Standards Committee will again provide written notice to the RP (via e-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 www.paralegalfoundation.org.
PACE - Development and History
- PACE Development
- Phase I of the PACE™ Test Development by Judy Gibbs, Avila College
- PACE Item Writing Experience by Magdalyn M. Cyganovich
- The PACE Goes On by Debbie Tope, CLA
- Scoring PACE--A Meeting of the PACE Development Committee by Adria L. Henderson, LPI
- A Change of PACE By Jolene Miller
- PACE: From Exam Developer to Registered Paralegal by Sybil Taylor Aytch, RP®
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 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 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 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 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.