Big Ideas ALA President’s Letter

The CLM Journey — It’s Just as Important as the Destination

It’s human nature to be hesitant about taking an exam — anxious and preoccupied about whether we will pass. In reflecting on my own study journeys and sitting for the Certified Legal Manager (CLM)® exam, I completely understand and relate to why so many members struggle with these feelings.

Michael T. Bumgarner, CLM, CPA, CGMA

I decided to sit for the CLM exam in 2006 after learning about the program in this very magazine. I read about the benefits to both law firms and individuals who obtain the designation and knew right away it would serve me well.

Most of us spend a good part of our days fielding a wide variety of questions from lawyers and support staff. But isn’t it interesting how, even though most of us are in defined roles, we are expected to know everything about everything? Quite frankly, the majority of what we do is not confined to the black-and-white box of a job description. We have to become comfortable working in a world of gray — thinking on our feet and adapting to the needs of the moment. That’s how we discover the importance of widening and improving our skill set, seeking more education in all areas of the legal profession. By continually building our skills and increasing our knowledge in law firm management, it enables us able to appropriately and efficiently handle the variety of questions we receive, from technology and insurance to accounting, human resources and business management.

And that’s exactly what the CLM is based on: the knowledge of what a principal administrator of a 30- to 50-attorney firm would need to know to be able to offer advice in the many knowledge areas relevant to legal administration. 

The drive to improve our skills and seek continuing education to become more proficient in our jobs has motivated many of our members to seek certification. While the credential is a big goal, the “journey” is what helps to improve our competency. Many members have shared their journey with the Certification Committee: It often begins by navigating the vast set of reference materials listed in the CLM examination application packet that apply to the job of a legal administrator. Then they assess the areas where they are most comfortable and those where additional preparation would be required.

While everyone’s journey will differ with respect to preparation, the key for most is to focus on your weak areas, reviewing reference materials, seeking outside resources and reading materials, and in some cases, joining a CLM study group.

Our diverse backgrounds and different strengths and weaknesses in the core areas of knowledge make study groups a great way to assist in the learning process — and sometimes it can be a great deal of fun! Many have found that the study groups and/or a combination of different preparation techniques, with regular repetition, have definitely improved their skills and their confidence.

ALA headquarters also has started a trivia event that melds quizzing your knowledge with fun — and prizes! (See the end of this article to learn about that.)

Exam preparation is a personal endeavor, and everyone has their own comfort zone and learning preferences for how to do it. Take the road that best works for you to become more confident about the material in each of the core areas.

We are not expected to be “experts” in each area but rather “conversant” in each area of knowledge. And while knowledge is important, applying the knowledge is essential — understanding how to apply what you have learned is the key ingredient to testing whether you have truly absorbed the material during your journey. 

Remember, your journey to sitting for the certification exam is just as important as taking the exam. Whether you pass or not, you have certainly improved your knowledge and skills that you can bring back to your law firm and put into practice. In the event you do not pass the exam, please don’t give up! Your exam results will indicate the areas you need to improve. Go back and begin the journey again, because it will be the best investment you will ever make in yourself!

Now, let your journey begin!

There’s still time to join other CLM exam preppers (and those curious about the exam) at our next trivia event. Join us October 19 at 3 p.m. Central for a fun, 90-minute event with questions pulled from the Study Guide for the CLM Exam. Best of all, you’ll play for prizes! Each member of the winning team will receive a $25 gift card. The $29 registration fee will give you entrance to the event, place you on a team and make you eligible to compete for a prize. However, if you’re registered for the November 16 CLM exam, you get to participate for free!

And keep watch for the January issue of Legal Management. We’ll explore other journeys members have taken in earning their CLM certification.