Our paralegal and legal secretary friends will find this an interesting read:
Studying for NALA’s Certified Paralegal Exam
by Makala E. Coleman, CP
I do not have a lot of experience as a paralegal; I’m just starting to get my feet wet in trying to figure out what a “paralegal” is. I went from being a file clerk, to a part-time secretary to one attorney (who I’m thankful was very patient with me), to working full-time for several attorneys.
I had aspirations of being a lawyer so landing a job with a law firm while I attended school was a dream to me. I soon found out that I did not want to be a lawyer, but I loved working within in the legal field. I loved the work, the challenge, the new story with every case. After going through the grind as a file clerk for several months, a co-worker took me under her wing, became my mentor and began to train me as a legal secretary. After I got out of school, I decided to work toward my certification. Since I do not have extensive experience and am still learning what it means to be a paralegal, I thought I would shed light on something I can actually help with: Insight on Studying for NALA’s Certified Paralegal exam.
The biggest challenge of the CP exam was trying to figure out how to study for it. The CP exam was more intimidating that the SATs were in high school. (Luckily, I did better on the CP exam than I did on my SATs.) Seeing the CLA Review Manual for the first time did not help. The book is huge! However, I highly recommend making sure you buy it and use it as a resource. Once I began to go through it, I realized how important the manual actually is. It includes all of the information needed for the exam, as well as practice questions for each section and a mock exam.
The most difficult sections for me were the Communication and Legal Research sections, however, several people needed to re-take the Judgment & Legal Analysis portion of the exam. For me, the Judgment & Legal Analysis section was more intimidating than it was difficult.
Communication. The Communication section focuses on spelling and grammar and includes multiple choice questions and a writing exercise. The Elements of Style by Strunk & White is a very helpful reference for not only the exam for a general brush-up for daily writing. What saved me on this section was the CLA Study Guide and Mock Exam, which includes numerous practice questions for those of you who need brush up on your grammar, spelling and vocabulary.
The Communication section also includes legal terminology and Latin. I wouldn’t spend an extensive amount of time studying the legal terminology or the Latin, but flash cards are the most effective study method. They are cheap, easy to make, and you can carry them around with you.
Legal Research. Since the exam is based on federal statues and rules, the Legal Research section of the exam was a challenge. Focus on this chapter in the manual! This was one of the few chapters I actually outlined because it lays out great examples of breaking down a citation. I always found that writing down what you are unfamiliar with will assist you in remembering it later. You can also use A Uniform System of Citation by the Harvard Law Review Association as a guide to Federal citations and practice citing cases and statutes based on that information.
The CLA Study Guide and Mock Exam is a great tool for those who need assistance staying on track. It breaks down the sections of the exam into several weeks, broken down by chapters, with a brief overview of the sections and a practice test at the end of each chapter. It also includes an additional mock exam so you can find out what the pace of the test will be. I spent several weeks on each section, but it gave me a rough idea of what schedule I should be following.
NALA also offers online courses and Short Courses that covers the material you are tested on. (www.NALA.org)
I spent about six months studying for the exam. It is a huge time commitment, but the reward of passing is worth the time. I carried my CLA Review Manual and CLA Study Guide around with me wherever I went with a highlighter and Post-Its for notes.
It’s also helpful to have someone else to study with. While I didn’t go this route, I wish I had. I cannot count the number of times I threw my hands up and said “I can’t do this, I’m done!” Just having someone else going through the same obstacles as you can help a great deal, but it always makes it easier to study with someone else so you can benefit from their strengths. Not only will they help keep you motivated and committed, but they can also help keep you sane through the process.