Comparison Chart

This chart compares the certification exams offered by:
NALS…the association for legal professionals
National Association for Legal Assistants (NALA)
National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA)
Please Note: The content of the chart below is verified only as to the information about the NALS Professional Paralegal (PP) exam and the NALS Professional Legal Secretary…the advanced certification for legal professionals (PLS) exam. The information regarding NALA and NFPA® exams is unverified, and provided for informational and comparison purposes only. The NALA and NFPA information below was obtained from publicly available sources.



NALSProfessional Paralegal (PP) – NALS NALSProfessional Legal Secretary…the advanced certification for legal professionals (PLS) NALACertified Paralegal (CP); Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) NFPA®Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE)
Organization Established
incorporated in 1949
incorporated in 1949
Certification Established

Membership Information 4,000 individual members$108 new member (7)

($98/yr after)

$53 associate (8)

$19 student

4,000 individual members$108 new member (7)

($98/yr after)

$53 associate(8)

$19 student

6,000 individual members$99 new member – active (2)

$84 associate (3)

$40 student

$50 sustaining(4)

(includes affiliate organizations, no information is available on individual member)
$85 new member (paralegal or paralegal supervisor)

$60 associate (5)

$50 student

$120 sustaining (6)

Number Certified
(eff 04/14)
(eff 04/14)
(eff 03/12)
(eff 08/12)
Eligibility to Test

Education and/or Employment

To be eligible to sit for the Profession Paralegal exam, candidates must meet one of the following criteria: (1) Have five years of experience performing paralegal/legal assistant duties.

(2) Be a graduate from an ABA approved Paralegal Program.

(3) Hold a Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies.

(4) Be a graduate from an accredited paralegal program which consists of a minimum of 60 semester hours of which a minimum of 15 hours is substantive law.

(5) Hold a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field and have one year of experience performing paralegal/legal assistant duties.

Three years’ experience in the legal field. Partial Waiver:
(1) A maximum one year waiver may be granted for post-secondary degrees, successful completion of the ALS exam, or other certifications.
(1) Graduation from paralegal program that is:(a) Approved by the American Bar Association; or (b) An associate degree program; or (c) A post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies; or (d) A bachelor’s degree program in paralegal studies; or (e) A paralegal program which consists of a minimum of 60 semester hours of which at least 15 semester hours are substantive legal courses.(2) Bachelor’s degree in any field plus one year’s experience as a paralegal. Successful completion of at least 15 hours of substantive legal courses will be considered equivalent to one year’s experience as a paralegal.

(3) High school diploma or equivalent plus seven years’ experience as a paralegal under supervision of a member of the bar, plus evidence of a minimum of 20 hours of CLE within two-year period prior to exam date.

(1) An associates degree in paralegal studies obtained from an institutionally accredited and/or ABA approved paralegal education program; and six years substantive paralegal experience; OR

(2) Bachelor’s degree in any course of study obtained from an institutionally accredited school and three years of substantive paralegal experience; OR

(3) Bachelor’s degree and completion of a paralegal program within an institutionally accredited school (which may be embodied in the bachelor’s degree) and two years substantive paralegal experience; OR

(4) Four years substantive paralegal experience completed on or before December 31, 2000.

Examination Topics
Part 1 – Written Communications: Grammar and word usage, spelling, punctuation, number usage, capitalization, composition and expression Part 2 – Legal Knowledge and Skills: Legal research, citations, legal terminology, the court system and ADR, and the legal skills of interviewing clients and witnesses, planning and conducting investigations,
and docketing

Part 3 – Ethics and Judgment: Ethical situations involving contact with clients, the public, coworkers, and subordinates; other ethical
considerations for the legal profession; decisionmaking and analytical ability; and ability to recognize priorities

Part 4 – All areas of substantive law, including administrative; business organizations and contracts; civil procedure and litigation; criminal; family; real property; torts; wills, trusts, and estates; admiralty and maritime; antitrust; bankruptcy; environmental; federal civil rights and employment discrimination; immigration; intellectual property; labor; oil and gas; pension and profit sharing; taxation; water; workers’ compensation

Part 1- Written Communications: Grammar and word usage, punctuation,
number usage, capitalization, spelling, and composition and expression
Part 2 – Office Procedures and Technology: records management, computer
information systems, equipment/ information services, office
procedures and practices, office accounting

Part 3 – Ethics and Judgment: Ethical situations involving contact with clients, the public, coworkers; ethical considerations for legal
profession; decisionmaking and analytical ability; ability to recognize

Part 4 – Legal Knowledge and Skills: Legal Knowledge: citations, legal
research, and the ability to prepare legal documents based on oral
instructions and materials; all areas of substantive law

Federal law and procedure. Section on Substantive Law includes five miniexaminations covering the American Legal System and four of the following areas: administrative law, bankruptcy, business, organizations/ corporations, contracts, family law, criminal law and procedure, litigation, probate and estate planning, real estate.Two essays required: (1) Communications (2) Judgement/Analytical Ability. Graded subjectively. Domain I – Administration of client legal mattersDomain II – Development of client legal matters

Domain III – Factual/legal research: obtain factual/legal information;
investigate/compile facts; inspect/evaluate evidence; ascertain/analyze legal authority.

Domain IV – Factual/legal writing

Domain V – Office Administration

Exam based on Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Length of Exam
one day

one day
two days
four hours allowed
Testing Sites
nationally/most major cities

nationally/most major cities
Many major metro areas
200+ Sylvan Learning Centers
Frequency of Exam

First Saturday in March

Last Saturday in September

(no waiting period to retest)

First Saturday in March

Last Saturday in September

(no waiting period to retest)




Within 90 days of approval of application

(six month waiting period to retest)
Cost of ExamMember



$200 (retake $50/section)

$250 (retake $60/section)

PLS Members Part 4: $150
(retake $50)

PLS Nonmember Part 4: $200 (retake $60)


$150 (retake $40/section)

$200 (retake $50/section)

$225 (retake $50/section)$250 (retake $50/section)

Site fees range from $34.50 to $49.50 depending on length of session.


Exam Fee: $225; Application Fee:$25 (retake $250)

Exam Fee: $250; Application Fee: $75 (retake $350)




Every five years75 hours (five hours legal ethics)

Minimum of 50 hours on substantive areas, minimum of 5 hours on ethics, and maximum of 20 hours on other areas. Substantive areas should include those that reflect the substantive nature of a paralegal’s
work, enhance a paralegal’s knowledge of the profession, update
knowledge of the law, or relate to the Professional Paralegal examination;
including, but not limited to, procedural and communications
skills, legal research and citations, and procedural and substantive

Every five years75 hours

Education on PLS exam topics or teaching, lecturing, writing, earning college credit, earning other certifications

Every five years50 hours, including at least 5 hours of ethics Every two years 12 hours of CLE, including at least 1 hour of ethics.
Recertification Costs $75 $75 $50 $25
  1. 200,000 paralegals nationwide per U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, (3/21/04)
  2. Anyone who completed CLA exam; graduated from ABA program for legal assistants; graduated from legal assistant accredited course not ABA approved/not less than 60 semester hours of study; graduated from legal assistant course/not less than six months of in-house training as legal assistant whose attorney-employer attests individual is qualified as legal assistant (“attorney attests”); or earned baccalaureate degree in any field plus at least six months in-house training as legal assistant whose attorney attests; person with at least three years of law-related experience and at least six months in-house training as a legal assistant whose attorney attests; or person who has a minimum of two years in-house training as a legal assistant whose attorney attests.
  3. Attorneys, educators, legal assistant supervisors.
  4. Individuals, law firms, corporations and legal assistant program representatives who endorse or promote the legal assistant concept or promote the legal assistant profession.
  5. Nonvoting; former paralegal or legal professional other than paralegal
  6. Nonvoting; persons, partnerships, corporations, associations supporting purposes and activities of NFPA.
  7. Members include those who work for attorneys, e.g., paralegals/legal assistants, secretaries, office managers. court personnel. This fee does not include state or local chapter dues.
  8. Educators, judges, attorneys

Legal Certification Comparison Chart prepared by Kathleen L. McRae, PLS, RP and Lyn M. Hurlbutt, PP, PLS, CLA, RP, CPS.