My CCLS Experience

By Lorri Nicolini, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C.

I have been a legal secretary for just over 30 years.  Still in college, I answered a newspaper ad for an “entry level legal secretary, willing to learn,” and the rest is history.  I originally thought I would work in the legal field for about 3-5 years while I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life, but I discovered I was good at the job and felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as I contributed to a successful team of “legal beagles,” as my first boss used to call us.  The work was challenging and I enjoyed the variety and constantly learning and expanding my skills to keep up with the profession.  I have since worked for a variety of firms from sole practitioners to large international firms, gaining valuable experience along the way. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2019 when during a monthly staff meeting one of the secretaries did a presentation about the California Certified Legal Secretary (CCLS) exam, which I had not previously heard of, and made a case for having our firm sponsor those who wanted to take it.  She directed us to the then-LSI (Legal Secretaries, Inc.) website, now LPI (Legal Professionals, Inc.  I was impressed with the comprehensiveness of the exam and the resources they offered. 

Four of us expressed an interest in studying for and taking the exam, the next one was to be held in September 2019.  We set up a few informal information and study sessions over the next month and in the end, two of us, the secretary who originally suggested taking the exam and I, sat for the exam that September.

The exam is held over a single day twice a year, in the spring and in the fall.  It consists of seven sections:  Ability to Communicate Effectively; Legal Procedures; Skills; Legal Computations; Legal Terminology; Law Office Administration; and Reasoning and Ethics.  An applicant must pass all seven sections to obtain the certification and only has to retake the section(s) not passed.  Did I mention the test covers five areas of law:  civil litigation, family law, corporations, estate and probate law, and real estate? 

I felt excited at the prospect of passing the exam and having a professional certification to back up my years of experience.  I also felt the prospect of studying for such a comprehensive exam to be daunting.  There are several ways people prepare:  study groups, flash cards, practice tests, and good old fashioned review of practice guides and California Codes.  In the end, I relied heavily on reading manuals and taking practice tests.  I did not use flash cards or attend more than a couple of study sessions.  In retrospect, flash cards would have helped greatly, as would the accountability of getting together with a study group. 

The night before the exam I did not feel as prepared as I would have liked and even contemplated not showing up and registering for the next exam slot in the spring.  However, I told myself that I would lose nothing by not trying and even if I passed one or two sections, then I would not need to take those sections again. 

Exam day came, and I was glad that I showed up.  The exam was administered by California Certified Legal Secretaries who were professional, yet understanding, since they had literally been in our seats before.  I felt the questions were fair and the exam tested a wide breadth of knowledge and skills.  I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment once the exam was over.  It also ended up being a good networking experience because I met other legal professionals across Northern California, some of whom I keep in touch with to this day. 

After several weeks’ wait, I received an email that I had passed six of the seven sections.  The section I didn’t pass was only by a small margin.  I really could do this!  I was elated and felt that retaking the one section, with a little additional preparation, would be a breeze now that I had been though the process.  It turns out my co-worker who took the test with me also passed six of the seven sections, although the section she did not pass was different than mine.  One of my legal secretary friends who also has many years of experience asked me if my experience helped in passing the exam, or if I thought it was more about studying and rote learning.  I told her I felt my experience definitely helped, but that a good study plan is essential. 

I was all set to retake the one exam section in March 2020, but due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the exam was pushed back to September 2020 and then again to March 2021, with the possibility of being pushed back further into 2021 or even 2022.  Not to worry, I plan on being prepared and acing that last section.  The moral of the story – if you have an interest in becoming a California Certified Legal Secretary, give it a try and don’t let your fears get the best of you.  You really have nothing to lose and a professional certification to gain.

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