Learn all you need to know about taking the test to become a California Certified Legal Secretary (CCLS).
Why Should You Take the CCLS Exam?
We all have our own reasons for taking the California Certified Legal Secretary exam, or for not taking it. Reasons for taking the exam might include proving to yourself or your employer that you can do it, or it is just another challenge to conquer, or your employer may recognize you with a raise and/or bonus for passing the exam.
These are all great reasons for taking the exam, but what about the reasons for not taking it?
- I don’t know what the CCLS Exam is. The California Certified Legal Secretary exam is an eight-hour exam given twice a year (March and September), and tests your knowledge in the following areas: California Legal Procedures (including litigation, business, probate, family and real estate), Legal Terminology, Legal Computations (calendaring, math and light bookkeeping), Ability to Community Effectively (grammar, punctuation, etc.), Skills (using what you know), Reasoning & Ethics, and Law Office Administration (computer knowledge, etc.).
- My employer doesn’t know what the CCLS exam is and won’t recognize me for passing, so why bother? Many employers don’t know what the CCLS exam is all about, but if we all educate them as to what the exam consists of, what is involved in studying for the exam, and what the benefits are of having a CCLS on their staff, they will become more familiar with the program, and more likely to recognize CCLSs on their staff.
- I don’t have time to study. SDLSA sponsors a study group for each of the exams. The study group meets less often at the beginning (usually once a week), but as the exam date draws nearer, will meet more often (two or three times a week). Study time outside of the group meetings is individual, and is up to the discretion of the examinee depending upon their needs. You can fit study time in just about anywhere – an extra ten minutes every morning before leaving for work, on the trolley or bus, in the car (using audio tapes), lunchtime – anywhere you can find the time. While it is a good idea to participate in a study group, it is not necessary, and that would be left entirely up to the examinee to fit in their study time where they can.
- I can’t afford to take the exam. The books are expensive, and the exam fee is not cheap. Study materials can be borrowed. SDLSA keeps a set of exam materials and will loan them to examinees to use while studying for the exam. Many CCLSs will also loan their materials to examinees. In some cases, your employer may already have some of the materials you will need to study. Your employer may even pay for your exam fees!
- I can’t maintain the required continuing education credits. CCLSs are required to complete 15 hours of continuing education credits every three years. If you attend just five SDLSA dinner meetings a year at which CLE credit is provided, you will have completed your CLE requirements. You can also obtain credits by attending programs approved for CLE by the State Bar, by other local organizations, or through self-study.
Hopefully this will provide enough information to help turn those reasons for not taking the California Certified Legal Secretary exam into reasons to take the exam.
Certification is achieved by passing a comprehensive examination including California legal procedures, legal terminology, performance skills, reasoning and ethics, law office administration, ability to communicate effectively, and legal computations.
SDLSA is currently holding a study group to help our members study for this exam. If you are interested in joining a study group, please contact the CCLS chair at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any person who has a minimum of two years’ full-time experience as a legal secretary, or the equivalent as approved by the Certifying Board, may apply to take the examination. Membership in Legal Secretaries, Incorporated is not a requirement to sit for the examination.
The examination is given in March and September each year, usually on the third Saturday of the month.
C. Application Deadlines
A candidate’s completed application form and any requested attachments must be received by the Certifying Board 60 days prior to the examination date. A candidate must notify the Certifying Board if she or he will not be present on the examination date. An application for deferral to the next examination date may be submitted to the Certifying Board with the proper fee and in accordance with the operating rules of the Certifying Board.
D. Test Sites
One site will be established in the northern portion of the state and one in the southern portion of the state. Testing centers will generally be established in the general geographic areas commonly known as Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Specific test sites for each examination will be determined by (1) the most centrally located available site to the registered test applicants; (2) the number of test applicants requesting a specific site; (3) the availability and cost of appropriate testing facilities; and (4) the availability of appropriate proctors. Whenever possible and practical, test site selection preference will be given to law offices and other sites provided at no cost to the Certifying Board.
E. Examination Contents
- Ability to Communicate Effectively. This section of the examination measures the candidate’s proficiency in written communication, including grammar, punctuation, spelling, word usage, and sentence structure. Testing in this section is provided in two formats: multiple choice and practical review. Both formats must be taken; however, passage of either format is considered passage of the section.
- California Legal Procedures. This section of the examination tests the candidate’s knowledge of California legal practice and procedure and is primarily focused on the areas of litigation, real estate, probate and estate planning, corporate, and family law.
- Skills. In this section of the examination, the candidate reviews instructions and uses her or his knowledge of legal practices and procedures to identify correctly completed assignments in the areas of litigation, real estate, probate and estate planning, corporate, and family law.
- Bookkeeping, Record Keeping, and Computations. This section of the examination tests the candidate’s knowledge of accounting terminology and principles, accounts management, and arithmetical calculations which might be performed in a law office or legal department.
- Legal Terminology. This section of the examination tests the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of the proper forms of legal citation based on the California Style Manual and the candidate’s knowledge of legal terms.
- Law Office Administration. This section tests the candidate’s knowledge of records management, office equipment and supplies management, computer technology, office etiquette, and personnel management.
- Reasoning and Ethics. The reasoning portion of the examination verifies the candidate’s ability to evaluate facts and situations logically and to reach rational conclusions; the ethics portion tests the candidate’s understanding of accepted professional standards of conduct.
F. Partial Retakes
- A candidate must pass a minimum of four sections of the examination at one sitting to qualify for a partial retake of the examination (other than a retake of all seven sections). The three or fewer sections which were not passed may be retaken upon submission of an application and the payment of the required retake fee. All unpassed sections must be taken at one sitting, and all seven sections must be passed within seven test cycles, including the test cycle at which the four or more sections were initially passed. See the Certifying Board’s operating rules for further details.
- The deadline for a retake application is the same as the deadline for receipt of an application to take the full examination.
- A retake candidate must notify the Certifying Board if she or he will not be present on the examination date.
The appropriate fees must be submitted with an application to sit for the complete examination, to sit for a retake of three or fewer sections of the examination, or to defer taking all of the examination (or part of the examination if the candidate is in retake mode) to the next test date. If a candidate does not pass four or more sections, an application to sit for the complete examination and full registration/examination fees must be submitted to the Certifying Board before the candidate will be permitted to sit for the examination again.
A refund of the examination fee may be requested no later than 60 days prior to the examination date. The Certifying Board will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to refund an examination fee if request is made less than 60 days prior to the examination date and if the request is made by the candidate because of an emergency or health reason. In no event will the registration fee be refunded.
A candidate may pass the examination in two ways: an overall score of 75 percent or better or a score of 70 percent or better on each individual section (retakes allowed if four or more sections are passed at one sitting).
The examination will be graded within six weeks of the test date and the results will be mailed electronically to the candidates.
Once you have become a California Certified Legal Secretary, you must complete 15 hours of continuing legal education within a three-year period in order to maintain your certification. Every three years, you must submit proof of attendance of at least 15 hours of continuing education to the CCLS Certifying Board.