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Teri  Dean, CRP

By: Teri S. Dean, CRP (Guest Blogger)
Part III of Our Designation Series

I am a “mature” paralegal, and not just mature in terms of legal experience.  Rather, I am a middle aged single mother who has started a new career.  After a divorce and a job lay off, I decided it was time to take some initiative to gain control of my life again.   I looked at my options for training and job prospects.  I researched going back to school and found a program that I liked that would work with my situation.  I had always been interested in the legal field.  I found a program that would allow me to work towards a paralegal certificate.  The program was from an ABA accredited school and since I already have a BA (although 20 years old).  I would be able to complete the program in one years’ time.  I made the decision to go back to school and after a lot of hard work and tremendous support from my family, today I am a “mature” paralegal that is very “green” on experience.

While enrolled in my paralegal program, my advisor talked to us on several occasions about the importance of networking, resume building, building our portfolios, and keeping current on the law and court rules.  She also stressed how important a professional organization could help with our careers.  Since many of the organizations offer a reduced price for student members, I began researching them.  I joined WSPA (Washington State Paralegal Association) and NFPA®.  While researching the professional organizations, I was intrigued by all the different credentials a paralegal could earn through testing and education.  I liked the idea of the continuing my education and the ability to show my knowledge and dedication to the field by earning these credentials.

Alas, I am not a patient person and was disappointed to learn that I would not be able to earn any designations without a few years of experience under my belt.  Of course, I also understood the importance of having the on the job experience to stand behind the credentialing so for the time being I put the thought out of my head and moved forward with my education and work experience.

In March 2010, not long after I graduated from the paralegal program, I was having lunch with a friend and former classmate.  We were engaged in the usual discussions, centered around what had been happening in each of our lives, when the conversation turned toward a new exam being developed by NFPA®.  It was called the PCC, or Paralegal Core Competency exam and was designed for new paralegals to test their knowledge of coursework and basic paralegal competency. My friend suggested that she and I apply and sit for this exam.  The really cool part is that we would be some of the first EVER to take it!  If we were successful we would earn the right to use the credential “CORE Registered Paralegal™” and the acronym “CRP™” after our name.  How cool is that?

I had to laugh at myself later when looking back on that moment as it had not crossed my mind that I would be able to showcase this designation as an attribute to my new career as a paralegal.  Rather, I was completely fascinated by the fact that I would be one of the first to test for this and maybe earn a title that I could use after my name.  I know how silly that sounds, but it was the initial thought going through my head that day.

Once I quit imagining how cool the new designation would be, I panicked.  All of a sudden this idea sounded a little overwhelming with all I had going on learning a new job and taking care of my family.  When would I find the time to devote the studying necessary to pass this exam?  I knew that if I took on this adventure that it was not one to take lightly and would require me to devote all my free time to studying.  My friend, who is always so upbeat and enthusiastic, assured me that we would study together and try to get others from our paralegal program to join us to form a study group.  Plus, we would have the added benefit of being participants in the test pilot exam at a greatly reduced registration fee of only $65.  Being budget conscious, I agreed that the savings alone made it worth taking the leap.  I figured with a support system and a study buddy, I could do it—so I agreed.

The registration for the pilot exam opened up in April 2011.  I was still fairly nervous about devoting the time necessary to this exam and only having a short time to prepare for it.  The first ever PCC exam was scheduled for June 11, 2011.  Still riding on the assurances of my friend that as study buddies we could make this happen, I submitted my application to NFPA®, paid my fee and waited for my confirmation email with my instructions.  Once I received my confirmation and knew I was good to go, I had to prepare a plan to make the most out of the next 2 ½ months.  I sat down and started reviewing the participant handbook NFPA® posted on their website.  It was full of information and was very useful for me to help formulate my study plan.  I do have to admit that when I got to the appendix section and was browsing the TWO ½ PAGES of suggested reading and study materials…the panic set in again.  How was I going to cover all of this information in such a short time frame?  I only had from April to June to study.

I called my friend and told her I thought I was in over my head and could “not do this.”  I was just going to eat the $65 registration and forget the exam.  My friend very calmly brought me back to reality.  She reminded me that many of these topics we had already covered in our paralegal program and we would just need to pull out the text books to do a review.  It was not like we had never heard of what long-arm jurisdiction meant, or that our instructor had not ingrained proper citation formatting, grammar, and RPCs into our brains.  There were a few areas of substantive law that I had not studied in school, so she suggested that I just start with those, so I did.

With my head no longer spinning in stress and confusion, I pulled out the text books and invested in a PACE study guide.  As the PCC exam was in a test pilot stage, there really was not a PCC study guide and the exam is based somewhat on PACE, so I figured that would be a good resource to use as my main study companion.  I found this to have been a very wise investment.  The PACE study guide covered all but one of the substantive areas that we were to be tested on, so it became my constant companion.  I carried it with me where ever I went and studied from it at every available moment.

As the exam grew nearer, I began to get nervous again.  I was both anxious and excited.  I really liked the idea of being in on the ground breaking of something new, but I also place a lot of internal pressure upon myself and really wanted to do well on the exam.  The outcome of the exam did not determine my employment status.  I was already employed and this was all extra.  I was doing this for my own personal enrichment, but that did not make it any less important to me and I really wanted to succeed.  The pilot PCC exam was going to be given in pencil/paper format and we would have to wait up to 8 weeks for our results. (Currently, the exam is given in computer format and the participants receive unofficial results concluding the test.)  In some sense, I liked the idea of the pencil/paper format as it was more like school finals and that put me into a familiar comfort zone.  I just dreaded having to wait so long for my results.

The day of the exam came and I woke up early to make sure I had a little extra time to cram any last material into my already overloaded brain.  I had a nice breakfast with my family and then hit the freeway for my hour drive to the testing location.  I had so many butterflies going around in my stomach.  I knew when I got to the testing site and saw my friend that I would relax some and it was all going to be okay.  I parked my car and followed the signs to the appropriate building.  Once inside we had a check in procedure where we had to show our identification and our admittance letter.  When you were confirmed you were on the list and had proper identification you were then sent into a testing room.  Each room only held a certain number of people and once it was full the doors closed and another room would begin to fill up.

I noticed that my friend was not there yet when the door closed, but I was too consumed with running scenarios and legal terminology through my head to worry at that point.  I knew I had done all I could up to this point to prepare, so now it was just a matter of listening to the proctor’s instructions and starting the exam (and maybe saying a quick prayer too).

The proctor passed out our test booklets and answer sheets.  We were not to open the books until told to do so.  We listened to the instructions, allowed to ask a few questions, and then began the exam.  As I opened the test booklet, I was so nervous.  Would the questions be hard?  Would the questions be about stuff I had not studied?  Was I going to be a complete failure?  I anxiously read the first question and realized that I knew the answer.  I took my #2 pencil and filled in the correct bubble as I had been instructed and thought, “well at least I will get one question right.”  As I continued to read through the exam questions, I began to relax.  The exam was not easy per se, but I knew the material.  If I got hung up on a question, I just moved on to the next and when I got to the end went back to spend a little more time on the ones I had been unsure of.

All in all, the testing experience was good.  The proctors and check-in staff did everything they could to make the situation as comfortable and easy as possible.  I finished my exam in just over an hour, gave it one last review, turned it in, gathered my belongings from the proctor, and went to my car.  Now the waiting game would begin.  I felt good about the exam but not sure if I had scored well enough to pass.  I would just have to wait to see what showed up in the mail.  I called my friend to see how she had done and found out that she had not been able to make it to the exam that day.  It was kind of funny how much I thought I relied on her strength for me to have the courage to take this exam.  Come to find out, I was able to do it all on my own.  I was proud of myself for what I had accomplished whether I passed or not.

Several weeks passed and I finally got a letter in the mail from NFPA™.  I took it out of the mail box and promptly put it into my purse.  I was not sure at that point if I was ready to open it.  I was not prepared to find out if I had failed.  I left it in my purse, went home to have dinner with my family, and waited until that night after the kids were in bed to open my test results.  When I read the word “Congratulations” that was all it took.  I knew I had passed!  I was up jumping around happy as could be.  I had done it!  I was now officially Teri S. Dean, CORE Registered Paralegal™.

I think the biggest take away from this experience for me is that I was able to do it no matter what challenges I thought blocked my way.  I had people tell me that it was not worth taking since it was not really all that prestigious being it was for entry level paralegals.  I had other ask me why I was bothering to take the exam when I already had a job and it did not make a difference with my employment status.  What I would tell others contemplating taking this exam is do it!  Do it for yourself and do not let anyone discourage you.  Look at it as a stepping stone to future certifications and a way to keep improving upon yourself and your skills.  No exam is easy, but with a proper plan and devotion anyone can make it happen.  Even a “mature” person like myself.

For more information regarding the PCC exam, visit the website for NFPA®, at: www.paralegals.org, and looks under the “Pace/RP” tab!

Teri currently works as a paralegal for the Law Office of William R. Michelman, Inc., P.S., located in Lakewood, Washington.  Most of the work her attorney does is with personal injury and criminal defense.  Only having been on the job for a year and a half, she has already gained experience in the state court system, federal court and even had one case go to the court of appeals.  With all the different arenas that her attorney works in, she is quickly gaining some very valuable and wide spread experience.  In addition to her newfound paralegal career, Teri also gives presentations at the community college where she earned her paralegal certificate on what it is like to be a new paralegal and her experience with taking the PCC exam. 

Outside of the paralegal world, Teri is also gaining valuable negotiation skills at home as the mother of a pre-teen daughter and a young son.  Her time is busy being supportive of her children’s activities, reading, enjoying family outings with the kids, her partner and his daughter, and mostly just loving being a mom.

What an inspiring story!  Do you have anything to add, TPS readers?  Do you have a tip regarding the PCC?  Perhaps you want to share your personal experience with us?  Please feel free to leave a comment!  We’d love to hear from you.