The National Association of (NALA) is a professional association for paralegals, providing them with continuing education, professional development, and certification. The Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) is a career standard for those employed in the paralegal profession. While professional certification is voluntary and requires the fulfillment of ongoing education requirements to remain current, those who have achieved this credential have demonstrated their ability to provide superior paralegal services to law firms and corporations. In order to earn the CLA/CP designation, the individual must take the Certified Paralegal examination.
The Certified Paralegal (CP) examination is divided into five sections, and the paralegal must obtain a minimum score of 70% on each of the five sections in order to pass the examination and earn the Certified Paralegal credential. Examinees will respond to true/false questions, multiple choice questions, and questions where they must match information. The various questions require the paralegal to demonstrate knowledge of specific subject areas and also reading comprehension skills. In addition, the examination contains essay questions which test the paralegal’s analytical skills and writing abilities.
One section of the CP examination covers Substantive Law. This section is divided into five sub-sections. All examinees are required to take the first sub-section, entitled American Legal System. This sub-section covers the concepts of the American legal system, including: the court system, its structure, and its jurisdiction; the branches of government, government agencies, and legal concepts such as separation of powers; legal principles including the appellate process and judicial decision making; and the different sources and classifications of law, for example the constitution, civil law, statutes, and common law.
For the remaining four sub-sections, the examinee must demonstrate knowledge by recalling the facts and principles for the specialty area as well as the structure of the law and procedures that must be followed for each specialized area. Examinees can select from nine substantive areas: Administrative Law, Bankruptcy, Business Organizations, Civil Litigation, Contracts, Criminal Law and Procedure, Estate Planning and Probate, Family Law, and Real Estate.
Another section of the CP examination is entitled Judgment and Analytical Ability. In this section, examinees must demonstrate their ability to comprehend data by identifying and understanding a problem. They must also apply knowledge by linking facts or legal issues between cases, identifying similarities and differences. They must be able to evaluate and categorize data, and also organize data and relevant findings in writing. Examinees must demonstrate an ability to analyze a research request, find applicable law, and write a responsive memo in response to an essay question. Through their response to the essay question they must demonstrate their ability to: identify relevant facts, stating them accurately and concisely; identify the main legal issue and any secondary issues; identify the pertinent legal authority and apply it; and, draw logical conclusions that persuade the reader.
Legal Research is another section of the CP examination. In this section examinees must exhibit their knowledge of the various sources of law, which includes primary and secondary authorities, and understanding how law is recorded. Research skills the examinees must demonstrate include citing law, updating decisions, and the procedural rules for citations. Lastly, they must demonstrate their ability to analyze a research problem, identifying the relevant facts and legal concerns.
The Communications section, which contains a writing exercise, requires examinees to demonstrate proper word usage and vocabulary, correct grammar and punctuation, nonverbal communications, skills relating to interviewing and client communications, and general communication skills as they relate to interoffice scenarios.
For the section on Ethics, examinees must exhibit their knowledge and understanding of the ethical responsibilities relating to their work, for example confidentiality, conflict of interest, unauthorized practice of law, and billing. They must demonstrate professional integrity and competence in accordance with the paralegal code of ethics, including the NALA Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, and an understanding of attorney codes and discipline.
CP Examination Application Documentation
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the professional designation to paralegals and legal assistants of Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP). In order to obtain this certification, paralegals must be admitted into NALA’s Certified Paralegal program. The first step for admission to this program involves submitting a properly completed Certified Paralegal (CP) examination application form. The information provided on the application form as well all supporting documentation will be reviewed and processed by NALA, who will then make a determination to authorize the applicant to take the CP examination.
Eligibility criteria for the CP examination and certification falls under three distinct categories. Applicants must meet the requirements of one of the three categories at the time they submit their application form. They must take care to ensure their application and supporting documentation is complete and that it complies with all NALA requirements. If not, NALA will require additional information or documentation, and this can delay the timeframe in which the applicant will be able to take the CP examination.
Prior to submitting their application, applicants should review it thoroughly to ensure they have completed every page and signed it. This includes selecting the four specialty areas for which they will be tested in the Substantive Law section of the examination.
Any requisite documentation that is needed to complete the application form, such as official school transcripts, attorney attestations, and payment, must be submitted at the same time the application is filed. In order for a school transcript to be considered official, it must bear the school’s official seal and the signature of an authorized party from the institution that issued the transcript. The school must send the transcript directly to NALA; or, as an alternative, the school can mail the transcript to the applicant in a separately sealed envelope. The applicant is then responsible for submitting the envelope containing the transcript to NALA.
The second category of applicant eligibility requires attestation by a member of the American Bar Association in the event the applicant is going to substitute one year of paralegal work experience for the 15 semester hours of paralegal coursework. The attorney must attest to the length of time the applicant was or has been employed as a paralegal, that the applicant is aware of the ethical limitations of the legal profession, and that the applicant has demonstrated professional conduct while in his or her employ. The attorney must sign and include his/her state and bar number.
The third category of applicant eligibility always requires attorney attestation and it must cover an employment period of at least seven years. If the applicant’s current employment period is less than seven years, the applicant must obtain attestation from one or more previous employers to verify his/her minimum seven years of paralegal work experience. For this category, the attorney makes the same attestation as appears in the second category and, the attorney must also attest that the applicant has met the CP examination eligibility requirement by completing at least 20 hours of continuing legal education.
NALA administers the CP examination in compliance with the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. If the applicant requires a special accommodation, he/she must complete the special accommodation form and submit it at the same time the examination application is filed. Note: any applicant who qualifies for a special accommodation is required to take the CP examination at an ACT testing center.
An applicant’s CP examination application will remain active for a period of two years from the date of the applicant’s first examination. The applicant must successfully complete all five sections of the examination during that two-year period. If the applicant does not successfully complete the examination in that time period, they must re-take the entire examination. In order to re-take the examination, they will need to submit an entirely new and updated application form.
Eligibility for Taking the CP Examination
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers the professional designation to paralegals and legal assistants of Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP). In order to obtain this certification, paralegals must take and pass the Certified Paralegal (CP) examination. One of the first steps in the application process for taking the CP examination is to be admitted into the Certified Paralegal program.
Paralegals who aspire to take the CP examination in order to receive the CLA/CP designation must properly complete the examination application form, documenting eligibility for the examination and CP designation. The criteria for eligibility falls under three distinct categories; the applicant must meet the requirements of a specific category at the time they submit the application form.
- The first category of eligibility criteria requires that the applicant be a graduate of a paralegal program. The paralegal program must be one of the following: approved by the American Bar Association; an Associate’s degree program; a post-Bachelor’s degree certificate program in paralegal studies; a Bachelor’s degree program in paralegal studies; or a minimum 60 semester- hour paralegal program for which substantive legal courses were taken during a minimum of 15 semester hours. An applicant is permitted to combine semester hours from more than one college or institution in order to meet the last requirement, but they must have graduated from a legal assistant/paralegal program that consisted of at least 15 semester hours. The applicant will need to provide substantiating documentation with their application form as evidence they completed the 15-hour minimum course requirement. In all cases, the applicant will need to attach to the examination application form an official school transcript that lists all courses taken and confirms the date of graduation.
- The second category of eligibility criteria requires that the applicant have a Bachelor’s degree in any field and a minimum of one year of paralegal work experience. As an alternative to one year of paralegal work experience, the individual can provide documentation confirming successful completion of a minimum of 15 semester hours of substantive paralegal courses. Applicants under this category will need to attach to their examination application an official school transcript that indicates the applicant received a Bachelor’s degree as well as their date of completion. Further, if the applicant is substituting paralegal coursework for the one year work experience requirement, he/she must submit along with their examination application an official transcript that documents the completed coursework.
- Under the third category of examination eligibility criteria, the applicant is required to have a high school diploma or equivalent plus a minimum of seven years of work experience as a paralegal. This paralegal experience must have been performed under the supervision of a member of the American Bar Association. Under this category, the applicant must also have completed a minimum of 20 hours of continuing legal education credit no more than two years prior to the CP examination date.
If a student has not yet completed paralegal training but is nearing graduation and would like to take the NALA CP examination, they may do so under three specific conditions. First, their graduation date must be no later than the 15th of the second month after the close of the CP examination testing window. Second, the applicant must submit a statement that is signed by their paralegal program director that verifies the student’s upcoming graduation date. And third, the applicant must submit a signed statement that acknowledges they will not receive the CP examination results and will have forfeited all fees in the event he/she does not meet their paralegal program graduation requirements and therefore does not complete the paralegal program.
The applicant must submit proper payment for the CP examination application. If the applicant belongs to NALA the fee is $250; if the applicant is not a NALA member the fee is $275. When appropriate, refunds may be issued less a $25 processing fee.
CLA/CP Examination Logistics
The Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal examination (CLA/CP) is offered as part of the process to obtain the designation of Certified Paralegal (CP) from the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Paralegals who have successfully applied and been approved to take the CP examination must adhere to specific examinee and program information.
Examinees can take the Certified Paralegal examination at an ACT testing center by making an appointment directly with the ACT online and paying the appointment fee that corresponds to the examination they will be taking. During a given test window, examinees can schedule their own test times and days, setting their own pace for taking the five required examination sections. Examinees who take the CP examination as part of a larger class or group at a non-ACT test site will follow that center’s schedule for taking the various examination sections and pay whatever fees that facility requires. If an examinee qualifies for a special accommodation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, that examinee must take the CP examination at an ACT Testing Center.
In order to gain admittance to the examination, examinees must provide a government issued photo identification. They must also have the test authorization form they received from NALA which has their NALA account number, PIN, and Test ID number. All of this information is required in order to be allowed to enter the examination. Everyone is required to arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the examination, to allow time for check-in.
Once NALA approves a Certified Paralegal Examination application, it will be active for a two-year period that begins on the date the paralegal first takes the examination. During the two-year period, the examinee must successfully complete all five of the required examination sections. If the paralegal does not complete the examination within the two-year period, he/she must reapply to take the examination, and also re-take the entire examination.
When the examinee signs in to the website that provides the examination, he/she will be asked to read and acknowledge the NALA Policy Statement. This statement addresses NALA’s certification program and the terms and conditions relating to how the CP examination is administered. In general, the examinee must declare and/or attest to certain criteria, for example that the information provided on the CP Examination Application Form is complete and truthful. The examinee also attests to understanding the reasons for suspension or revocation of the CP designation, for example falsifying information on the application form or divulging the nature or content of examination questions. The examinee must also read indicate acceptance of the Terms and Conditions of the CP examination. These include statements such as agreement to not bring any unauthorized items into the testing room or confirmation that he/she will neither give nor receive unauthorized assistance during the examination.
Any question the examinee was unable to finish will be scored as an incorrect answer. At least two Certifying Board members will review and score the typewritten essays. The examinee will receive their results approximately 30 days after the test window closes. Examination results are not provided sooner than that because they include an analysis and validation of the examination data, the test and essay responses, and the scores.