Two national organizations administer certification examinations to legal assistants. Both organizations strive to promote excellence in the paralegal profession through national professional standards.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, established the Certified Legal Assistant program in 1976. A legal assistant must successfully complete all five sections of the CLA examination. It is a two-day comprehensive examination that is based on federal law and procedure. The CLA credential is awarded for a period of five years. To maintain the CLA status, a legal assistant must submit proof of participation in a minimum of 50 hours of continuing legal assistant education, such as successful completion of a state certification test, completion of a CLA specialty examination, or teaching in a legal assistant program. Those who have achieved the CLA credential may seek advanced certification in specialty practice areas. These specialty certification examinations are available under the areas of Bankruptcy, Civil Litigation, Corporations/Business Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, Intellectual Property, Estate Planning and Probate, and Real Estate. Each of these is a four-hour examination that is written to test specialized knowledge of the practice area. Successful completion of a specialty examination results in a CLAS designation. (www.nala.org)
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations, located in Kansas City, Missouri, developed the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam in 1994 to test the competency level of experienced paralegals. This program is designed with two stages or tiers. Tier I addresses general legal issues and ethics, and Tier II addresses specialty sections for those person who have successfully passed Tier I. Requirements for a paralegal to take either tier of PACE include work experience and education. To maintain the PACE Registered Paralegal credential, a paralegal is required to obtain 12 hours of continuing legal education every two years, including at least one hour in ethics. (www.paralegals.org)