Please enjoy this blog authored by James MacGregor, Managing Director, Ethical eDiscovery.
In the rapidly evolving world of legal technology, the acquisition of relevant knowledge and expertise is a moving target. With the legal industry increasingly embracing technology to streamline processes and enhance efficiency, legal tech professionals who possesses the appropriate expertise to guide lawyers along this path are in high demand. However, not all expertise is equal. While some legal technology jobs require a professional with in-depth knowledge of a specific software to execute a task, others need a generalist who can assess a variety of products and services to develop and execute a holistic plan. Thus, how do you determine which areas of study are right for your chosen career path, and whether, or not, to invest in specific certifications relevant to your chosen field?
While the pursuit of knowledge is an essential facet of any successful legal tech professional, there are only so many hours in a day and we can’t all be experts in everything. Therefore, it’s important to be strategic about where and when to invest your time studying, to yield the best results for your chosen career path.
To illustrate the pros and cons of different legal technology certifications, examples have been used from the eDiscovery/Litigation Support sphere, but the same general principles can be applied to all legal technology verticals.
When evaluating which certifications are most likely to help you achieve your career goals, it is important to consider how narrow to focus. Should you focus on a software-specific certifications, such as the "Relativity Master", or instead opt for a more general industry certification like the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)? This article explores the pros and cons of both types of certifications.
Software-specific certifications provide in-depth knowledge of a specific tool or platform. For instance, the “Relativity Master” qualifies people to be expert users of Relativity Software. To become a Relativity Master, you must first become a Relativity Certified Administrator and then do a further four Relativity Specialist certifications - https://www.relativity.com/resources/certification/faqs/
Immediate Applicability: Professionals can apply the skills gained from software-specific certifications immediately within their current roles. This practicality can lead to increased productivity and more efficient workflows.
Differentiation: In a competitive job market, having an expert certification for a widely used software can set you apart. Employers often prioritise candidates with specialized knowledge, making it easier to secure a job or promotion.
Focused Training: Software-specific certifications offer concentrated, hands-on training. This focus allows professionals to quickly become proficient in a specific tool without needing extensive knowledge of the broader legal tech landscape.
Limited Scope: By focusing solely on one tool, professionals may miss out on understanding broader legal tech concepts and other tools used in the industry. This narrow scope can limit their adaptability.
Risk of Obsolescence: The tech industry evolves rapidly, and specific software tools may become outdated. If a certified tool falls out of favour, the certification's value may diminish.
Cost and Time: Preparing for software-specific certifications can be expensive. Costs may include exam fees, training courses, and study materials. This financial investment can be prohibitive for some individuals. Furthermore, to become an expert in each tool, might take years. For example, becoming a Relativity Master may require hundreds of hours of study.
Certifications can’t replace experience: To be certified in a tool, you need to know it inside and out, but sometimes tools break… When that happens, you need the benefit of practical experience to adapt and problem solve and that can’t be learned via examination, but only from real-life experience on other projects that have gone wrong.
General Industry Certifications:
The Certified E-Discovery Specialist Certification responds to the need for professionals with diverse skills and knowledge across the eDiscovery Spectrum. It doesn’t focus on using any one piece of software, but rather on training industry best practices that can be applied across a variety of different tools - https://aceds.org/ceds-certifications/
Versatility: General industry certifications like ACEDS cover a wide range of topics within the legal tech field. This breadth allows professionals to develop a holistic understanding of the industry.
Adaptability: Industry-specific certifications are designed to evolve with the industry. They require ongoing education and recertification, ensuring that professionals stay updated on the latest trends and technologies.
Credibility: General certifications are recognized throughout the industry, making professionals more credible in the eyes of employers and clients. They are a testament to one's commitment to the field.
Networking: Many industry-specific certification programs offer networking opportunities through conferences, forums, and local chapters. These connections can lead to valuable collaborations and job opportunities. ACEDS, for example, offers local regional chapters which host events for that very purpose.
Broad Knowledge Base: General certifications cover a wide range of topics, which can be overwhelming for some professionals. It may therefore take longer to gain proficiency in a specific area. Furthermore, because the certification is so broad, it may fail to go deep enough on any one topic to qualify the individual as an expert within it.
Lack of Immediate Application: Unlike software-specific certifications, the knowledge gained from general certifications may not be immediately applicable to one's current job. Professionals may need to seek opportunities to apply what they've learned.
Cost and Time: Like software-specific certifications, general industry certifications can be costly, and the preparation time required can be substantial.
Certifications can’t replace experience: Even if not software specific, a general certification isn’t as valuable as hands on experience. The nature of the legal tech world is that no two projects are the same and things always go wrong. The best professionals to have with you when this happens are those that have climbed their way out of difficulty in the past, regardless of their certifications.
In the world of legal technology, continuing education and certifications are valuable assets for professionals seeking to advance their careers. There are many benefits to pursuing certifications like those offered by software providers, or more general industry bodies. However, it's important to be aware of the potential disadvantages so that you can ensure you’re fully informed before you embark on the time and cost commitment required to complete these courses.
It’s important to think about what interests you and where you’re looking to take your career and once you’ve answered these questions you can tailor your study to achieve these goals.
To help you answer these questions, try speaking to recruiters in your industry who can tell you what is important to hiring managers, talk to your peers who hold relevant certifications and ask them about their experiences, and where possible, try researching as much as you can before committing to a chosen path. ILTA is an exceptional resource for all of the above and you can access its power by attending an upcoming conference or webinar, or by digesting the organisations’ ubiquitous thought leadership.
James MacGregor Biography:
James has worked in global leadership roles at some of the largest eDiscovery professional services firms in the world overseeing projects in the US, UK and European markets. In those roles James led teams of professionals in the collection, processing and review strategy of huge multi-lingual datasets drawn from thousands of custodians across the globe.
In his role as a founder and builder of UK operations for boutique cross-border litigation support companies, James has focused on adapting international approaches to eDiscovery to cater to the nuances of the UK market and the specific disclosure requirements under the courts of England and Wales.
Building on his many years of experience in the eDiscovery industry serving both regional clients and large multinational ones, James is adept developing bespoke solutions for his corporate and law firm clients through the recognition that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every project has different timelines, deadlines, budgets, data challenges and legal requirements. Therefore, they all require a tailor-made solution to satisfy each project’s unique needs.