Even now, Litigation Support is a rather nebulous field. I know people with IT, law clerk, lawyer, training and records management backgrounds in jobs with the title of “litigation support” or “eDiscovery” something-or-other; but their fundamental core skills are obviously very different. This, along with a lack of key job descriptions, has caused some problems for the still young eDiscovery industry. How can you find the right person for the job when “Proficient in Concordance” can mean anything from knowing how to enter data to being able to write CPLs (Concordance’s proprietary programming language)? Is a Litigation Support Specialist someone who loads data into your litigation review database or someone who advises lawyers on the best eDiscovery plan for their clients’ litigation? Keiran Glynn of Kent Legal has developed something of a specialty in hiring for litigation support positions. I asked her what effect certification would have from her perspective as a recruiter specializing in this area:
Having interviewed a wide range of E-Discovery professionals I know first-hand the wide range of experience and qualifications that exists in the current marketplace. It’s my responsibility to identify for clients the true level of capabilities a candidate brings to the table. The uses of software such as Summation vary from data entry to much more complex functions. When exchanging discovery information electronically, if not done correctly, a firm is potentially exposed to their own litigation. Certification would qualify the depth of knowledge of the user, and establish where further training may be required.
One of the solutions put forward by the litigation support community to the issue of minimum skill levels since late 2006 has been to create some kind of industry certification. As many of you will know, there are a number of existing certifications floating around already. However, most are product-specific (e.g. Summation, Concordance and LAW certifications), some are vendor-specific (e.g. Kroll’s eDiscovery certification), and many are specific to the US market (e.g. LitWorks highly-regarded certifications). You also find litigation support professionals with forensics (e.g. Encase and the Certified Computer Examiner) and general IT certifications (e.g. CompTIA’s A+). However, none of these have the independent, international, industry-wide authority that is needed for a young profession to stake out what it is — and isn’t — part of a litigation support skill set.
The Association of Litigation Support Professionals (of which I am an active member) was started in November 2006 to address some of these problems. One of the concerns being raised at the time by the wider litigation support community was that if litigation support professionals did not define for themselves what skills a litigation support professional should have, then other professional organizations (ABA, ARMA, among others) would do it for us. And the problem with that is the bias that these other organizations would have towards their own skill sets: no doubt the ABA would consider knowledge of US law more important than the ability to parse data correctly; ARMA might consider knowledge of retention guidelines more important than knowledge of the limitations of TIFFs as a production format. Of course, knowledge of the law, civil rules and guidelines appropriate for your jurisdiction are important, as is some grasp of what records should be kept, and for how long; but these are both only a small part of what a litigation support professional should know.
One concern that many have had in Canada is the relevance of an organization like ALSP to Canadian professionals. After all, discovery in Canada is not the same as discovery in the US, and a certification that requires knowledge of the US FRCP is not going to be helpful in determining the ability of Canadian litigation support professionals. But with the recent merger of CALSP into ALSP, and the distinctly Canadian voice of Michael Condé, Litigation Support Manager at Borden Ladner Gervais on the board of directors, there is no danger of Canadian needs being forgotten. And if you want to add your own voice to ALSP, there are ALSP chapters in both Toronto and Vancouver; or you could start your own.
ALSP is not the only organization out there that is developing an independent, industry-wide certification. Chere Estrin has recently started the Organization of Legal Professionals. Its board of governors reads like a who’s who of eDiscovery in the US, but it’s unclear as yet if the certification they are developing will be solely focused on US needs, or will have an international focus also.
Regardless of who provides the certification the industry needs, it is needed — if only to provide guidance to those who hire litigation support professionals. Although the days of your neighbourhood copy shop claiming to have eDiscovery expertise may be over, it’s still worth having independent verification of someone’s claimed expertise. And for those just getting into the profession, a certification provides a means of proving your knowledge at a basic level, even if you don’t yet have the years of experience.