Part of the Solution

Idealistic musings about eDiscovery

The “Vast Power of eDiscovery Certification”?

Much has been written about eDiscovery industry certification programs in the blawgosphere lately. The Organization of Legal Professional (OLP) has one, the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS) has one, Kroll Ontrack has one, and the Association of Litigation Support Professionals (ALSP) is still trying to get theirs off the ground.

Well, if so many organizations are offering their own “industry certifications” … how can ANY of them truly be an industry certification?

One of the reasons I became a charter member of ALSP is that one of their founding missions was to create a non-profit, non-biased, industry-wide eDiscovery certification program. ALSP got bogged down in politics and personalities and budget shortfalls, and that noble mission never took form (and that’s among the reasons I left ALSP). Still, there definitely was, and remains, a need for some sort of standardized validation of a particular eDiscovery skill set.

We have to question the motives of someone who creates an eDiscovery certification program – even one that’s supposedly “non-profit”, as OLP claims theirs to be – based on their own initiative. ACEDS doesn’t even maintain a pretense of altruism; their certification program, not to mention the articles on their website (just try to read one), are unabashedly “for profit”. And Kroll? Well, Kroll’s a very large, very for-profit company; what do you suspect their motivation could be?

Patrick Oot wrote a thoughtful essay for Law Technology News, titled “Sham Exam?”, questioning the usefulness of eDiscovery certification, not-so-subtly referring to the ACEDS program; and ACEDS’ exec director Gregory Calpakis fired back. OLP chair Chere Estrin got in her own shots in a separate interview. I think both Gregory and Chere missed Patrick’s point, which was directed toward lawyers but has broader implications: You can’t necessarily trust the certification programs, and even if you can, you can’t necessarily market your new certification without running afoul of your state bar’s ethics rules.

My thoughts are these:

There are critical needs for uniform, comprehensive eDiscovery training programs, for every legal and technical job classification within an organization or government agency. OLP and ACEDS both appear to address these needs; so thanks to them, there now appear to be credible ways for a newbie to the eDiscovery realm to get up to speed. (Kroll’s course requires three separate one- or two-day courses to learn everything, and there is no comprehensive exam, so what they call “eDiscovery Certification” is actually just a certificate of attendance! Misleading? You be the judge.) I’m all for what OLP and ACEDS are theoretically trying to do; after all, that’s why I initially joined ALSP.

But “industry certification” under these circumstances? Come on. First, the very notion that you can have competing “industry certifications” issued by unassociated organizations is ludicrous. “Who died and made YOU the arbiter for industry standards?” you might well ask either group. There is no governing body for the eDiscovery industry, and even ALSP would have had trouble gaining credibility for its non-profit certification program had it succeeded. Second, isn’t the important thing here the eDiscovery industry knowledge and familiarity with best practices, and not some piece of paper? Don’t we want job hunters to demonstrate their knowledge in the job interview, rather than simply “summon the vast power of certification”?

Dilbert has something to say about this.

We don’t even have consistency among the states when it comes to requiring certification for paralegals (some states don’t require certification at all). To suggest that an eDiscovery “certification” could be more than an expensive piece of paper ignores the reality that there is no uniform nationwide certification for anything where the legal industry is concerned. That’s not going to change with eDiscovery (we haven’t even seen most states promulgate their own ESI rules yet); and if OLP and ACEDS are marketing their offerings as “standardized industry best practices” rather than merely competing certifications, somehow I’ve missed it. (And let’s not even broach the issue of whether these certifications would be of any value in any other country.)

I certainly applaud the notion of a comprehensive system of eDiscovery training, and I can even get behind the steep prices that OLP and ACEDS are asking (education ain’t cheap, after all). Just … stop marketing these as “industry certifications”. As Kroll has proven, the term doesn’t really mean anything (certainly not yet); and as such, it only hurts your credibility.

(Note: As I was researching this, I found a recent blog post by Dennis Kiker on this topic that I recommend to you.)

(UPDATE: On Monday, August 22, ALSP and ACEDS issued a joint press release in which (a) ALSP endorsed ACEDS’ certification program, and (b) pulled the plug on its own.)

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