Legal Business

Who was the first to certify legal project managers?

There's been some controversy lately about who was the first to offer certification in legal project management.

There does not seem to be any dispute about the facts.  Last November, when we announced the start of our demanding Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program, we called it "the first to award certification in this new discipline."

Since that announcement, we have begun certifying lawyers in the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, China, and Germany.  The smallest firm to sign up has eight lawyers; the largest has over 3,500.  But were we the first?  At least one major consulting firm is claiming they were first because they offered certificates to workshop participants before our announcement.

There is no czar of the English language who will rule whether attending a workshop is enough to say you have earned a certification.  There is, however, a National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) which has been doing just that for several decades.  In their Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) Handbook they define certification as:

A process... by which individuals who have demonstrated the level of knowledge and skill required in the profession... are identified to the public and other stakeholders (p. 408). 

NCCA draws an explicit distinction between certification and what they call a "certificate of attendance:" a piece of paper you get for going to a workshop. 

To become a Certified Legal Project ManagerTM, a lawyer must study over 300 pages of assigned readings, answer 17 essay questions about how these concepts apply to their situation, demonstrate their skills and knowledge with real-world applications in their practice, and pass a written essay test.

The readings come from seven of the most influential texts in the field, including my Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide: Tools and Templates to Increase Efficiency.  (Our original announcement said there were six textbooks, but we have since added one more.)  For lawyers who want to dig deeper, we also provide a guide to over 400 pages of supplementary readings in our seven book reference library.

After the 17 essay questions have been completed, each participant has three in-depth conversations with a legal project management expert about how to apply these concepts to a case study that will enable the lawyer to achieve immediate and practical real-world results.  The program concludes with a personalized "final exam essay question" to sum up the implications for each practice, including a sustainable action plan for the future.

Our program requires a commitment of 40 hours over one to six months, so it is not for everyone.  The vast majority of lawyers we work with enroll in our workshop and coaching programs instead of certification, because they offer results more quickly.  The Certified Legal Project ManagerTM program was designed for the small number of  lawyers who want to take a leadership role on these important issues, help change policy inside their firms, define new processes, and train others. 

Lawyers sign up for this program because they strongly believe that legal project management will provide greater value to clients and increase firm profitability.  They know that a short class will not be enough to work through the details of exactly how to best apply these concepts in their unique practices. 

The lawyers who have signed up so far are all are very busy people, many with leadership roles in their firms.  They are willing to make the 40-hour commitment because they see the value it can provide.  In fact, some have chosen to devote more than 40 hours so they can also complete the supplementary readings. 

When the first group of lawyers completes certification in the next few weeks, I will write in this blog about what they have learned and exactly what they are doing to increase efficiency and client satisfaction.  I will include specific examples of the value they have created through templates, forms and budget spreadsheets, which they and their partners are using to improve client service. 

As demanding as our program is, we would never claim that it meets all of NCCA's certification criteria. Some of the NCCA requirements, such as formal job/practice analysis (Standard 11) and documented psychometric procedures (Standard 13), could take years to fully comply with.  We felt that law firms could not afford to wait for several years.
The NCCA's certification process is frankly not geared for an emerging subject matter like legal project management.  As their own ICE Handbook notes,

[There is] a rapid change in the knowledge and skills required for competent performance in virtually all workplaces... Certifiers must find ways to become more nimble... to keep pace with the changes (p. 352).

So we have taken this call for nimbleness to heart, and jumped right in to develop a program for lawyers who need to become more efficient now.

When we first announced the program, Paul Easton, author of the Legal Project Management blog asked a series of questions which I answered in this blog.  His last question was, "Where do you see demand for your certificate program in ten years?"  My answer began, "I have trouble predicting ten months from now, so I am reluctant to try to predict ten years."  I still feel that way.

Maybe we will expand our program to include paralegals and non-lawyers, as some clients have requested.  Maybe we will form a strategic relationship with a professional organization or a university.  Maybe we will decide to concentrate on the training and coaching part of our program, and let others focus on the testing component.

But, to return to the question posed in the headline: Who was the first to certify legal project managers?

When Law360 wrote an article about our "new program billed as the first to certify lawyers as project managers", they quoted a number of experts about developments in the field.  At that time, none of the experts argued with our claim that we had been first, although surely all were aware that many consulting organizations (including our company) had been offering workshops for a while.  When two participants published an article about our program in the National Law Review, they called it the "first formal program to certify lawyers as legal project managers."

Lately, others have made competing claims.

As we see it, the question comes down to exactly how you think the word certification should be defined.  If someone attends a workshop and receives a certificate, is that enough to say they are certified legal project managers?  How did these people demonstrate their knowledge and skill?  Shouldn't certification mean something more? 

You decide.

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