Industry News Legal Management Updates

Prepping for the CLM Exam? Ops in a Box Can Help

When I first started out in legal management in 2007, ALA was my first home in the legal operations profession. 

An R. Trotter, CLM

Having worked as a program manager in the not-for-profit arena, I had decided to go back to school — the NYU Stern School of Business — which is how I landed in legal operations. Immediately, ALA was an invaluable resource, both in terms of services offered and generous colleagues.

Soon after, I learned of ALA’s Certified Legal Manager (CLM)® program. I decided to take the exam to complement skills I learned in business school and supplement the practical knowledge I accumulated on the job. Today, the exam remains the respected and sole credentialing certification of the profession.

The knowledge set — focused on finance, human resources, operations, business management and the legal industry — is essential to anyone running a business. While some information is specific to the practice of law, what business does not need to set expectations for its counsel, or to protect itself from legal risk?

Completing the course prerequisites and studying does take a considerable commitment above and beyond your typical already full work schedule. And the exam was difficult — while ALA does not publish the success percentage, research from the New York City Chapter’s education committee suggested that the year I qualified, it was around 30%. But that investment of preparation was well worth the effort, and the very fact that the exam was challenging made passing it and earning my CLM credential that much more rewarding.

Earning my CLM has been invaluable. Working in a corporate law department, I benefit from drawing upon subject area experts for every area my job touches. My primary responsibility is to be an informed subject area generalist. I’m also a process specialist focused on fostering cross-functional collaboration, business planning, and managing projects and budgets.

My preparation for the exam sharpened my ability to know when to raise questions, to be more specific in inquiries and improved my subject area vocabulary. The syllabus also broadened the resources I draw upon in areas familiar to me.

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Fast-forward to October 2017: I was on the faculty of a Legal Operations Boot Camp. Almost 50% of the participants were from small departments with a handful of lawyers with full-time jobs offering advice and counsel. This group did not envision budget approval for a full-time legal operations hire and were seeking solutions to do both jobs in the same workday.

Reflecting on the faculty experience before moving to my present employer, I realized that I had refined documents brought from my previous job and that I would be building on that work at my next job. I was not starting from scratch, so why should anyone else reinvent the wheel? Why not have a standardized toolkit to jump-start legal operations?

“Earning my CLM has been invaluable. Working in a corporate law department, I benefit from drawing upon subject area experts for every area my job touches.”

I harked back to my initial experience in the New York City Chapter and the help I had received from many generous colleagues — particularly Bronya Vygodskaya, CLM, Janet Fraka-Casiano and Mimi DeMars, CLM, who led the education committee and steered my studies for the CLM exam. They had provided a number of study aids, including a CD-ROM with study notes from colleagues who had passed the CLM exam before me.

Inspired by that experience, I pulled together over 30 key templates from my first 10 years leading corporate legal operations teams into a kit on a flash drive, and packaged it with hard copies and magic. The result was Ops in a Box, Legal Edition.

This magical kit is meant to help set up and manage legal operations for corporate law departments and law firms. It’s the first essential toolkit for legal ops with multiple uses: for those seeking to launch their strategic plan, for seasoned operations teams seeking to fine-tune existing tools, and for small departments that need operations help but do not have the budget for a full-time operations professional.

The materials cover everything from legal operations history and timeline to strategic planning, financial management, human resources, vendor management, technology management and project and change management — with an added dose of magic, obviously. Not coincidently, these subject areas mirror topics in the CLM Body of Knowledge. I hope it encourages more ALA members to dive into this very worthwhile certification process.

It’s my way of paying it forward for all the help I received to become established in my chosen profession!

As you may have heard, 2021 is ALA’s 50th Anniversary! In honor of the occasion, from September to December of this year, if you purchase Ops in a Box, Legal Edition, Pure Magic Productions will donate $19.71 to the Foundation of the Association of Legal Administrators and give you 5% off the purchase price. Just use code ALA50 at checkout.