Thursday, February 22, 2007

Taking the PACE: How the Review Course Helped Me Pass

Achieving my Registered Paralegal (RP) designation is a goal I have wanted to reach ever since I first joined a local paralegal association, back when I was taking night courses at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Mass. to receive my certificate and working in a law firm as a legal secretary. I watched as people would call themselves paralegals but make careless errors, give out incorrect information, and in general, give the impression that the paralegal profession consisted of glorified secretaries. I knew that regulation, whether voluntary or mandatory, was needed to protect clients and law firms.

Two years after I received my certificate, I was eligible to take the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA), but I found myself forgetting a great deal of the basics I had learned in school. After two years of focusing on estate administration, areas like legal research, litigation, bankruptcy, and intellectual property were not as clear in my mind. I looked to my local paralegal for study groups, but at the time, no one else was expressing interest in PACE, and I knew that just studying the manual would not be enough to refresh my memory. I also knew that I would not adhere to a study schedule unless prompted, so I signed up for the online PACE review course from the American Institute for Paralegal Studies (AIPS).

Honestly, I had some misgivings about taking an online course. The biggest misgiving was, of course, me, because I did doubt that the necessary self-discipline existed to take the course successfully. Secondly, I worried that not having actual classroom interaction would hamper my learning ability.

Despite my misgivings, I logged in and began downloading the study guide and assignments. To my relief, the course had actual deadlines for each assignment, and each assignment logically followed the review manual. I purchased a large binder and filed the assignments and lessons by week. And, most importantly, I did the assignments, which consisted of multiple-choice questions that required an explanation of the answer, as well as a practical assignment. I found the practical assignments to be helpful as a refresher of what needed to be done.

I found the instructor, Loretta Nesbitt, RP, to be very helpful, and she was willing to work with me to accommodate my rapidly-approaching exam. She helped me identify the areas where I definitely needed more work (Domains 1 and 3, as well as portions of Domain 2, which is so vast that almost anything can appear as a Domain 2 question).

Contrary to what I expected, I learned that taking an online course was every bit as challenging and interactive as a traditional classroom course. I had assignments to complete; there were discussions on the bulletin board. At the same time, the online course was more convenient, as I did not have to be anywhere at a certain time (and saved on gas!) but could work around my schedule.

On August 5, 2006, I took PACE after completing the course. I was nervous; I still knew that my Domain 2 knowledge was weak, but felt more confident about Domains 1 and 3. The testing center was exactly as described in the review course and on the Web site. I arrived, put my belongings in a locker, and presented two forms of identification. The time allotted for the test is four hours, but I finished in an hour and a half, and that was after double-checking my answers. There were still questions that stumped me, even with the online course and heavy studying, but I remembered the test-taking tips given in the course to help me submit a best guess. I have to add here that the exam is very heavily weighted toward litigation.

Finally, I ended the test, scrunched my eyes closed, and waited for the on-screen results. And I passed! I feel very accomplished, not only for passing the exam, but for taking the online course and refreshing my legal knowledge.

I received my certificate and CLE information in February from NFPA, and as an RP, I feel more confident in my career.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2007 issue of the National Paralegal Reporter.


  1. Was this published in the NFPA magazine as well?

  2. Great job! I just completed the online review course. I'm awaiting the results of my Mock Exam. I'm so nervous about taking the exam. Do you have tips or helpful hints? Thanks!

  3. Thanks, Anonymous!

    Don't be nervous. As long as you did well in the online course, you should do fine with the exam. It's very weighted toward litigation, and Domain 2 is a big catch-all for questions that don't really go anywhere else. All I can say is to study, relax, and read through each question carefully.

    Good luck!

  4. Congrats, although belated :)
    I am studying for mine right now, but - just as you said- I dont feel very confident due to my current job not exposing me to litigation... at all! i do immigration work so i feel super-challenged... we will see what happens!


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