Becoming a CCLS

Written by Vivian Shreve, CCLS, of Santa Clara County LPA

I have been in the legal field for my whole life – literally!  My stepfather was a criminal defense attorney and my mother was his office manager, so I have quite literally grown up in the legal field.

I’ve worked in the areas of criminal law, bankruptcy, insurance defense, unlawful detainer, family law, civil litigation, patent prosecution, and ultimately IP and securities litigation, which I’ve been doing for the last 9 years.  I’ve always had a good bit of confidence in my ability and my skill set.  But a few years ago, I heard about something called the California Certified Legal Secretary exam.  I started doing some research and thought “Shoot, I’ve been in this field my whole life; I should be able to do this!”  Then I talked to a former secretary in my office, who happened to be a CCLS.  She encouraged me to go for it and told me about the study groups.  So, I started really considering it.  I joined Santa Clara County LPA, admittedly so I could get the benefit of the discount on the study materials and exam.  Once I got the materials and started to study, I questioned myself and thought “WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?!”  But, alas, it was too late to turn back now.  You see, in all of my excitement about the exam, I told everyone at work that I was studying and that I’d be taking the exam.  I was actually able to get my employer to agree to reimburse me for the materials and exam fees if I was able to pass.  NO PRESSURE, right?

So, I studied.  I studied flash cards at lunch time; I attended the online study group every week; I read all of the materials; I studied the Gregg Reference Manual; I had people quiz me; and I had the attorneys in my office spouting all kinds of legal terminology at me.  For 12 weeks, if I had a free minute, I was doing something related to the exam.

Now here it is, EXAM DAY!  To know me is to know that I am one of the world’s great sleepers.  I love to sleep in on Saturdays – but not this Saturday.  I was up early and driving from San Jose to Burlingame so I could be sure to be there by no later than 7:30 for the 8:00 start time.  After the first section was done, I called my husband and told him I’d be back up in Burlingame for the next test session because I thought there was no way I was going to pass.  I finished the exam and on my drive home, really not having any idea how I did on the exam, I felt so completely worn out, but at the same time I was somehow invigorated.  I knew I had done all I could to prepare myself and I had done all I could on the exam.  And not only that, but I felt that I had taken a huge step in trying to advance my career. 

The next several weeks were excruciating for me.  I checked my email every chance I got – morning, noon, night – waiting for the results.  So finally, just before Thanksgiving, I’d been at a food sort at the local food bank, sorting apples and oranges all morning.  Upon returning home and checking my email, there it was – CCLS CERTIFYING BOARD.  The results were in.  I started to shake, and I could actually feel the blood racing through my veins.  I was so excited, so nervous, so anxious.  I opened the email and the first word I saw was CONGRATULATIONS.  I screamed!  My husband and kids came running in to see what was wrong.  They found me jumping all over the house screaming “I did it!  I did it!  I passed!”  They never had any doubt.  I emailed my bosses and told them.  They also never had any doubt.  I think I was the only person who ever had any doubts.  I jumped around so much that I ended up hurting my sciatica and ended up in the emergency room.

Since taking and passing the exam, my career has been completely different.  I got a huge amount of respect from my coworkers, bosses and colleagues.  I have been getting better raises and bonuses.  I get to travel with my attorneys for trial, which I love doing.  I have much more responsibility in my office and have become a go-to person when people have questions or need help with projects.  I’ve been asked to assist with interviewing candidates and training new hires.  Not to mention the fact that before even getting my results, I was asked to run the study group for the next sitting of the exam.  I became the CCLS Chair for Santa Clara County LPA and am very proud to say that everyone that studied with me in the study groups has also passed the exam.  At the same time, I also became the Continuing Education Committee Chair, which is a position I never thought I’d be ready for.  But we’ve had some very successful workshops.

To sum it all up, the CCLS exam was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to study for.  I often tell people it is the hardest exam a non-attorney professional will ever have to take.  It is like studying for the LSATs or the Bar exam.  But passing it has made it all worth it.  My confidence level has skyrocketed.  The respect that I get from my employer and co-workers has been amazing.  And the opportunities that it has opened up for me have been incredible.  And I’ve gotten more job offers than I can count.  In this day and age, knowing that you are a little more marketable goes a long way.  I’m not worried about my job here right now, but I’ve survived several rounds of layoffs.  Having the CCLS helps me to know that if something should happen and I lose my job here, I know that I can go elsewhere and have no problem finding another job.  CCLS looks great on your résumé.

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