Editor-in-Chief, Law Technology News
120 Broadway, 5th floor
NYC NY 10271
Date: June 19, 2011
(note publication of this open letter was withheld at Monica’s request until July 30, 2011)
Re: Certification Debate
You sent me a list of questions on the so-called certification debate for an upcoming issue of Law Technology News. Here is my Father’s Day morning attempt to answer the ten questions you posed. Now I’m off to spend time with my kids.
1. Briefly describe an overview of your program and its goals (no more than about three or four sentences please) and provide links to more info please?
My goal is to revolutionize legal training in e-discovery by moving it into the clouds, and by opening up this education to anyone, not just lawyers and law students. The e-Discovery Team training program was originally designed by me in my role as a Law Professor at the University of Florida. It provides in-depth training, all online via the Internet. Each of the 84 classes in the program concludes with challenging follow-up assignments that require creativity, research skills, and independent thinking to complete. (It was originally only 62 classes when I first wrote this, but I added 22 classes at the end of July, so we are now up to 84 classes.) The program also has a wiki component, that will soon get much larger, where top vendors will contribute their own non-commercial classes to the program.
2. What is the cost?
The first five classes and all vendor sponsored classes are free. The first Section, what we call Freshman level, is $99. The first two sections, Sophomore level, with 35 classes, is $300. The entire 84 class course, Junior level, is $500. If a student wants, they can also pay another $500 for testing, but that is purely optional. This is all described here.
3. What is the makeup of your faculty (lawyers? judges? experts? etc.)
See here for a complete Syllabus of this law school level course where the ideas, words, and in many cases, the videos of the top people in the field are featured. You can click on each of the 84 classes and peek-in for a better idea, and as mentioned, the first five classes are free, so too are the vendor created classes
4. Who is on your advisory board?
My family and we’ve got nothing fancy like a board. Perhaps you will permit me a short explanation? In my world family always comes first. Since 1980 my law firm has been second, sometimes a very close second, but always second. My personal hobbies come third. Writing and teaching about e-discovery are my hobbies right now. I am passionate about them and about the e-Discovery Team Training program. I started the training program back in 2008 with law students and I opened the doors to the public in late 2010. Just because it is a hobby, and not a formal business, does not mean it is not good, but your readers should judge for themselves by visiting the program.
One of my heroes is Bobby Jones. He was never a professional golfer, he never turned pro. His priorities were his family and his profession, the law. Still, for several years he was the best golfer in the world, better than all of the pros. He then used his fame to create something of lasting value.
5. Are you affiliated with any universities or bars? If yes, which ones?
No. This is an independent creation, just like my blog and my four books, but it did originate out of my classes at the University of Florida. At my request, the state Bar where I have been a member for over thirty years, The Florida Bar Association, took a close look at my program and approved it for 21 hours of CLE credit. So too have the Bars in California and Texas. In my spare time I will continue to apply for accreditation from others Bars. Not all recognize cloud-based CLEs. Some require a tie-in to a bricks and mortar event for accreditation. This requirement degrades originality and is an unnecessary restraint. This restriction has been removed by many of the state Bar Associations that have looked into it.
6. Is your program for-profit or non-profit?
Technically it is for-profit, but someday I may go to the expense and trouble of a 501(c)(3) type framework. Not sure yet. Please allow me to explain. I make a good living as a partner in a law firm, which has priority over everything in my life except for my family. I am not looking to make any real money on this project right now. As explained, this is a hobby for me that I do on weekends and at night, one that I have been working on for years. I am trying to build a new type of CLE program, one based completely online. One that provides serious, in-depth instruction, not just talking heads on video, and one that embraces the wikinomics model. See Eg Replead for Participation and Another Case Showing the Need for Better Education. So far, if you don’t count sweat equity, I’m not losing money. If you do, I’m way in the hole. Hobbies rarely make money. But I don’t believe in just giving things away completely, although some of my course is free and I have given scholarships to other professors and serious students. In my experience, if you do not charge something, it will not be valued. Plus, I believe in free enterprise and capitalism. I for one do not criticize the other corporate ventures in legal education that have a for-profit motive.
7. What do you see as the biggest advantage of your program?
It is all online, its high quality, and it presents multiple views on e-discovery from the top experts in the field, not just me. Because its online and contains over 75 hours of study (was 50 hours when it was 62 classes), it is far more effective than traditional bricks and mortar CLE programs. See the Education Page on my blog for a series of essays on this topic.
8. Some critics of for-profit certification programs say some are “sham” programs designed to get $$ out of vulnerable professionals (contract lawyers, paralegals, IT) especially those early in their careers. What questions should students ask before signing up so they don’t get taken advantage of?
I think consumers of these programs, students, can protect themselves by sampling the programs before they buy, and that is why we give away the first five classes. But, having said that, I think the criticism in this question is a tad harsh, to say the least. Everyone I know in this field means well, even those, who unlike me, operate their programs as a business, in some cases a big business. What is wrong with free enterprise? These entrepreneurs could be making more money selling burgers, but they choose to focus on helping our profession. I respect them, just like I respect West, Lexis, ALM and all of the many other for-profit companies that service the legal profession. We should judge the programs based on their quality, not dubious questioning of motives.
9. For attorneys, the issue of “certification” is normally governed by the state bars. How are you addressing that? Especially in California, which has such rigid rules about who may declare themselves as a specialist, etc.
Good question. I don’t purport to certify competence and the descriptions of my course make this very clear. I happen to think this kind of competency certification and specialization designation should be done solely by the State Bar Associations. For me, training is the primary purpose of e-Discovery Team Training, not certification. But, if a student wants to be able to prove that they have indeed studied all 84 classes and understood the materials covered, they can elect to be tested. This is especially important for an all-online education program like mine. Some employers or others who pay for a student’s matriculation may insist on that. The several Bar Associations that have already looked at my program and awarded CLE accreditation all understand that.
The certification of successful completion of the course may benefit graduates of my program in other ways. It shows they are serious about e-discovery and have worked hard to complete what I believe, in my obviously biased opinion, is the best and most challenging e-discovery training program in the world. But I do not test competence in e-discovery nor purport to certify anyone as a specialist. I test whether a student has understood the course materials. I certify that they have completed my course with a passing grade.
I take the same approach here that I do with all of my law school classes. The only difference with my law school testing is that I don’t give grades or have to worry about a curve (which I hate). It is all pass fail. Even then, if a student fails, and the tests are hard so this is a real possibility, especially for students from outside of the legal profession, they can re-study and retake the test without further charges.
10. Who do you see as your primary competitor(s)?
I have two primary competitors, and they are both way ahead of me. My underdog status helps motivate me for the late night’s work, the next blog.
First, my main competitor is the 98% of law schools in the world that fail to offer a course in electronic discovery. They just don’t get it. By this omission our law schools fail to prepare their students for the practice of law in the 21st Century. It is a disgrace. I am here to fill that void. I am here to shake up the establishment.
My second primary competitor is the old-school providers of paper based CLEs. They again represent 98% of the CLE programs in the world today. They are the ones that force you to assemble in the same room at the same time to listen to a panel of experts speak down to you. These one-hour programs, even the two-day programs, are almost all nearly worthless. Real learning cannot happen in that environment and with those time constraints. Online education programs are the answer where you can study at your own time, your own place, your own pace.
It may be an impossible grandiose dream to take on the establishment like that, but everyone needs a hobby. Hopefully I’m not wasting good time that I could be spending with my family. I’d like to believe that one person can make a difference, and chaos theories seem to support this possibility. Hopefully this project will continue to force positive, adaptive change in this old profession of mine. Hopefully my online e-Discovery Team Training program will make a difference.
All of us in the profession know that the stresses caused by rapid technology change and the information explosion it triggered are very real. We have to educate and train thousands of lawyers and other professionals about e-discovery, and we have to do it fast. My solution is an online program. Other people have the same goals, but different approaches, different solutions. That is good. The need is great. Diversity is good. I hope we all succeed. I hope the establishment law schools and CLE providers wake up to focus on effective education programs, not just more of the same.
Father, Lawyer, Writer/Educator