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.

5 comments:

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

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  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!

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  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!

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  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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