Tips for Passing the CLA or CP Exam

In order to pass the exam, you will find pointers in this article to:

  1. Know the syllabus
  2. Know the exam schedule
  3. Know the test prep resources available to you

According to Legal Assistant Today magazine, the oldest two certification exams are also the most widely taken certification exams: the National Association of Legal Assistants’ Certified Legal Assistant (CLA) exam, created in 1976, and the National Federation of Paralegal Associations’ Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam, (PACE) created in 1994. This article focuses in the CLA exam.

The Syllabus

NALA’s CLA exam is undeniably the “granddaddy” of paralegal certification examinations.  NALA has recently added an additional certification credential, Certified Paralegal, for those who prefer the paralegal title. The 45 to 50 percent pass rate for persons taking the NALA exams indicates their difficulty.  To earn the CLA/CP designation, a paralegal must pass a comprehensive two-day examination on federal law and procedure, consisting of five sections.  The five sections are Communications, Ethics, Legal Research, Judgment and Analytical Ability, and Substantive Law.

  • Communications covers grammar, composition, writing, vocabulary, professional, and social contacts with clients, attorneys, and co-workers, and skills for interviewing clients and witnesses.
  • Ethics covers confidentiality, unauthorized practice of law, conflict of interest, advertising, identifying oneself as a non-lawyer to the public, professional integrity, attorney codes, and discipline.
  • Legal Research covers sources of law, primary and secondary authority, shepardizing cases, legal citation rules, and research problems.
  • Judgment and Analytical Ability requires writing—not typing—a research memo and covers analyzing facts and evidence, reading comprehension, data interpretation, and logical reasoning. NALA considers Judgment and Analytical Ability as one of the most difficult sections of the exam.  Substantive Law is a five-part section which is given last.
  • The first of the five Substantive Law parts is a general section covering the American justice system and its courts, including structure and jurisdiction, branches of government, sources and classifications of law, and the appellate process. The remaining four parts of the substantive law section cover areas of law chosen by the paralegal.  The subject areas available to choose from are:

Administrative Law,
Business Organizations,
Civil Litigation,
Criminal Law and Procedure,
Estate Planning and Probate,
Family Law, or,
Real Estate.

Exam Schedule

NALA uses a two-day testing schedule, always starting on a Friday. NALA advise that knowing the schedule in advance will help you be mentally prepared.  The Communications testing is first on Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and after a 90-minute lunch break, the judgment and analytical ability section is given from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday evening you have time to review for the Saturday sections: ethics from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and legal research from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. After Saturday’s lunch break is the final five-part substantive law section lasting from 1:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Test Prep Resources

There are numerous ways to study for the CLA/CP examination. If you like to study independently, NALA has published three guides available through Thomson Delmar Learning/West Legal Studies to help paralegals prepare for the examination.

  1. The first, the CLA Review Manual, is practically a must-read for passing the examination. Each chapter covers a different section of the examination with sample questions and practice tests.
  2. The second guide, the “NALA Manual for Paralegals and Legal Assistants”, covers general skills on which you will be tested during the examination, including the American legal system, research, ethics, judgment and analytical ability, interview techniques and other topics such as pretrial litigation skills, discovery, and assisting at trial.
  3. The third guide book is the CLA Mock Examination and Study Guide, which provides a 2 ½ hour mock exam. This guide is useful to help identify your strengths and weaknesses in the various substantive areas tested so you can choose the four you are best in.  These three books can be ordered from the NALA Web site at

NALA also offers online self-study programs for eight different test areas. These are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be taken at your own pace. The programs are available through NALA Campus

If you prefer studying with others, many state and local paralegal associations offer review programs for their members, or you might also decide to form your own study group. NALA recommends that study groups meet weekly for three to four months before the examination.  Study groups have proven to be great for maintaining enthusiasm and commitment to passing the exam.

At test time try to find a place to stay near the exam site so you don’t have to rush in on the morning of the test or get caught in a traffic jam. Try to relax the night before the exam and only do a minimal amount of last minute review.  Above all don’t stay up late—get a good full night’s sleep before the long day of testing.

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