How Do I Choose Between the NFPA PACE Exam and the NALA CLA Exam?

If you are starting a career as a paralegal, taking a certification test is a great way to market yourself to employers and build your resume and skills. You may be confused, however, about the difference between the NFPA Pace exam and the NALA CLA exam. Both are certification tests for paralegals and/or legal assistants; the exam you decide to take is largely a matter of personal preference and circumstance. Read on to learn more about the difference between the NFPA Pace exam and the NALA CLA exam.

Eligibility Requirements

In general, the PACE exam has stricter eligibility requirements than the CLA exam. For example, to take the PACE exam you must have an associate’s degree from a paralegal program that’s accredited by the American Bar Association AND six years of experience as a paralegal; a bachelor’s degree in any subject with three years of substantive experience; or a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies with two years substantive experience. By contrast, you can take the CLA exam immediately after graduating from an accredited paralegal studies program at any level, or with one year’s work experience if you have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline. Those with only a high school diploma and seven years of work experience are also eligible to take the CLA.

Content and Format

The CLA test is much more extensive, spanning two days, while the PACE test is taken in just a few hours. The CLA test is made up of five miniature exams, one on American legal procedure and four test topics of choice out of the following list: administrative law, bankruptcy, business, organizations, corporations, contracts, family law, criminal law and procedure, litigation, probate and estate planning and real estate. In addition, one essay on communications and one essay on judicial ability are also required. The PACE test, which is based on Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, tests five separate domains: administration of client legal matters, development of client legal matters, legal research, legal writing and office administration.

Cost and Recertification

The CLA test certification, provided you pass, is good for five years. To maintain certification during that period, you must complete 50 hours of continuing legal education, five of which must be in ethics. The PACE test certification lasts for two years, and you must complete 12 hours of continuing education including one in ethics. Both tests have the same initial cost of $225. You can retake sections of the CLA if necessary at $50 each; for the PACE, you must retake the whole test at the same fee. Recertification after you pass costs $50 for the CLA and $25 for the PACE.

If you want to become a paralegal, the best route is to find an ABA approved paralegal program. Becoming certified is an excellent way to build your resume and become more marketable to potential employers. The exam you decide to take is largely a matter of personal preference and circumstance; with this information in mind, you can make an informed decision.