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Theresa A.  Prater, RP

By: Theresa A. Prater, RP
(The RP – Part I of our Designation Series)

In 1997, I decided to take the PACE exam to prove my association members wrong in their thoughts that it “won’t mean a hill of beans down the road.”  I had been a practicing paralegal for about 15 years at that point, and thought it was time to prove myself beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE) was developed by NFPA in the mid-‘90’s as a tool to test the competency of experienced paralegals.  NFPA worked closely with Professional Testing Service (PES), a not-for-profit educational company, to develop an exam that fit the profession and tested the skills necessary for an advanced or senior level paralegal

I studied for PACE without a support group. I simply set a schedule and followed my self-imposed deadlines.  I read some of the study manual or other material every day; I sought out attorneys to answer questions about things I thought I needed to know, but had not ever had an opportunity to practice – family law and probate being my two major areas of concern.  Once I was approved to take the test, I set up a final review course for the four weeks preceding my exam date…every day something new to think about, research or study.   PACE covers a wide variety of issues faced daily in a law firm or legal department: how to handle client matters, ethics, contracts, probate, real estate, litigation, and touches on technical matters, as well as patent andtrademarklaw.  There is no writing component, as the test designers believed that if you were qualified to take the test based on education and work experience, you know how to write!

February 4, 1998 — the fateful test day.  I told my boss and assistant that I’d be late, probably arriving about noon.  Little did they know how late I’d actually be! I arrived at the test site 15 minutes ahead of time, as I was asked to do; however, they had no idea as to “what” test I was actually supposed to take.  For more than two hours they tried to find the test in their system then get the test to load to the computer, constantly calling the techies on the other side of the country, and trying every which way to get the test to load.  Finally at 10:30 (more than 2 hours after my initial appointment), the exam was loaded to the computer.  Needless to say, I was more than anxious by that time as I had paced the floor, and consumed more coffee than I care to think about.  I thought I’d never get through the exam due to the amount of stress I’d just been through. 

Finally at about 1:00 p.m., I reviewed the final questions that I had been unsure of and hit the button to end the test.  Back in those days, we didn’t get instant preliminary results…we had to wait for the letters from PES and NFPA confirming a passing score.  When the letter from PES arrived, I immediately called two of the association nay-sayers to tell them I had passed! 

Over the next few months I got involved in assisting with the PACE program.  I took it upon myself to edit the first edition of the study manual, which was lacking in some areas.  I used a lot of red ink and sent the book to NFPA’s president, Sally Andress, with a note telling her that I thought we needed to review and revise the book for inconsistencies in style, grammar, issues with come sample questions, etc.  Sally and the PACE coordinator agreed and a committee was formed under the Vice President and Director of Profession Development, Betty Zimpfer, to revise the PACE Study Manual.  I assisted in question verification, writing procedures for the “assistant coordinators” who were charged with various duties that are now the domains of the PACE Coordinators under the VP of Certification.

My involvement with PACE has included editing a couple of editions of the Study Manual, verifying questions with source materials, and taking the last update of the exam “blind” in order to verify the questions and to quantify their validity.  As new test versions needed beta testers, I used my network of contacts to push paralegals inArizonato sit for the exam.  Several of them were accepted as beta testers for different versions of the exam, and I am happy to say they were successful.  I now preach certification to my students – telling them it is a true validation for their career choice.  They are looking forward to the time when they will be able to sit for the CORE Competency Exam, and eventually PACE when they have gained sufficient experience.

NFPA offers those thinking of taking PACE a study manual as well as an on-line review course to help prepare you for the exam. The PACE Study Manual is updated ever two to three years, with new sections added, case law reviewed and updated, and technology matters included throughout.  There are a variety of ways to prepare for the exam – join a study group, take the on-line review, or, as I did, set your own schedule. 

I spent about 4 months getting ready for the exam, both before and after I applied to sit for the exam.  As I stated, setting a schedule for yourself is mandatory – at least an hour a day, more if you feel “weak” in any given area.  Use the PACE Study Manual to its fullest extent – the bibliography is a vital part of preparation as is the glossary.  Ask lawyers and paralegals about areas of law you may feel you need help with – there are no “dumb” questions when you are studying for such an endeavor!!  Some paralegals have developed flash cards to help them study; others have recorded legal terms and concepts on their iPods for on-the-go studying.  Since you must have a degree to take this exam (unless you are luck enough to meet the grandfather clause), you know how to study already!  Just put those practices that got you through college back into practice.

I think the most important thing that came from being an RP for me was while working in house as a litigation paralegal: attorneys and their staffs from around the country recognized the PACE Registered Paralegal designation attached to my signature block as a mark of a dedicated paralegal.  More than once I was asked how to become an RP by a paralegal who literally worked for me, and several of those paralegals are now RPs.  Imitation is the highest form of flattery.

For more information on PACE, visit the NFPA website, www.paralegals.org or check with your local NFPA member association.

Theresa A. Prater, RP® is the Vice President and Director of Profession Development for the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (“NFPA”).  She assists the President of NFPA in addressing the future growth and expansion of the profession and the development of NFPA to support these changes. 

Theresa is a senior paralegal/litigation specialist in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix metro area) and has more than 25 years of litigation experience in healthcare law, personal injury and commercial litigation. Long active in paralegal associations locally and nationally, Theresa earned her designation as a PACE Registered Paralegal in 1998. She served as the primary delegate from the former Arizona Association of Professional Paralegals for many years, and as NFPA’s Continuing Legal Education Coordinator for five years.  From May 2006 through October 2009, Theresa served on the NFPA Board as the Region I Director, and was chair of the Region Directors for the 2008 – 2009 term. 

Theresa is a founding member of the Maricopa County (AZ) Bar Association’s Paralegal Division and serves as a member of the advisory board of Everest College and is on their adjunct faculty.  Her goals as VPPD are to expand opportunities for online learning through expansion of NFPA online CLE and through partnerships with NFPA Corporate Partners, such as IPE.

PACE, PACE Registered Paralegal, NFPA, and RP are all registered trademarks of The National Federation of Paralegal Associations.


Be sure to watch for the rest of our Designation Series, TPS readers!  We’re so happy to share this information with all of you.  Please feel free to leave us a comment or ask a question regarding the RP designation.  We’d love to hear from you.