What Happens When a Legal Publication tries for Sensationalism? Sorry, Couldn’t hear you over that loud thud.

Truth On occasion, a publication will go to print with an article that had Murphy's law written all over it from the beginning.  Such is the case of LTN's article last week on certification exams.  Trying to create (and I quote) "a huge controversy" where there was really nothing more than a bit of wheezing, LTN decided to go for the August sweeps by sensationalizing and creating controversy where basically, there was none.  Sure, some differences of opinions but not to the magnitude they thought they could push it.

I am the Chairperson of the Organization of Legal Professionals (OLP) and was contacted by Monica Bay, Editor, to answer some basically run of the mill questions about the purpose of OLP, the certification exam that rolls out soon, who is on the board, etc.  LTN was not willing to reveal to the interviewees who else would be in the article but did say that there was a 'huge controversy" over the topic.  That was strange, I told her.  I'm smack dab in the middle of it and while there certainly were some differences of opinion, I hadn't heard about any "huge controversy."  But things being what they are and the press having power,  LTN got their way.  Maybe they were tired of writing about technology, I don't know.

When the article finally came out, there were actually 4 separate articles.  By cleverly placing one of the  articles with a sensationalistic title (that I am told by the author he did not write), on top of two other articles about OLP and Ralph Losey, LTN managed to turn an otherwise run-of-the-mill story into what they apparently wanted: a tabloid story that mimicked the Enquirer at best.   What did they do?  Put the title  "Certification Exams: Sham Exams? – an article that talked about one organization (not OLP) that one author simply did not care for.  OK, that happens. Mind you, the organization's name was not mentioned in the article.  However, because LTN and the author did not want to get sued by this unamed organization, they failed to mention just which organization they were talking about and by clever placement of four articles, either inadvertently or trying to score  "wow factor" points,  managed to try to set back two years of valuable work, honesty, dedication of hundreds of people working thousands of hours for several organizations.

Then started the controversy they sought. As a result of what people thought they were reading, bloggers were blogging, publications were publishing and LinkedIn was linking about "the LTN article".  Mainly the opening lines were:

"A recent article by Law Technology News questioned the legitimacy of ediscovery certifications." The legal technology community is picking sides. So …."

Once again, LTN was not questioning the legitimacy of ediscovery certifications.

Cleverly, they placed that article directly over two other articles, Chere Estrin & OLP and Ralph Losey.  Any reader looking at those headlines automatically assumed that all certification exams were sham exams.  It caused many people who did not read all of the articles to assume that any and all eDiscovery certification exams were scams.

Let me tell you what goes into certification:  I will stay on OLP because that's what I am most familiar with.  OLP partnered with Pearson Publications, a $7 Billion corporation that has a well-known and well-respected certification division.  OLP provided the content from top subject matter experts and Pearson provided five Ph.D.s and the technology.

OLP worked on the exam for 18 months.  The investment is well into six figures.  OLP's top experts were all volunteers who gave freely of their time.  The Ph.Ds applied the science of psychometrics – that is a combination of the science of measurement and psychology, to ensure that a fair and unbiased test is produced.  Each question was reviewed by a peer review committee.  The exam must meet the standards of the National Association of Certifying Committee's guidelines and has strict rules that must be applied.  The exam is available in over 1,000 secured, security environments worldwide.  Pearson has created the LSATs, GMATs and many certification exams in nursing, healthcare, accounting and other professional fields.  The eDiscovery exam is tough, rigorous and only for those who meet certain educational plus work experience requirements. 

In some "certification" exams puportedly given by vendors, the student takes a course, perhaps at the vendor's facility, is taught by the vendor's account reps and at the end of two or three days, is given a test at the same premises and then given the blessing that they are certified.  That is not a certification exam.  It simply means that you received a certificate of attendance and passed a test on the course you just took.  Certification is a combination of your overall education and work experience and meets certain guidelines of a governing agency. Big difference. Certification exams are not typically given by schools or academic institutions. 

Paralegals: We need your assistance.  One of the vendors,  iConect, has gotten in on the bandwagon and is sending around a one question poll that they will probably spin for their own PR.  The poll opens with the sentence, "A recent article by Law Technology News questioned the legitimacy of ediscovery certifications." The legal technology community is picking sides. So …."

Once again, LTN was not questioning the legitimacy of ediscovery certifications.  It ran one article with one author pointing to one unnamed organization who, in his opinion, was less qualified to issue the exam.  It was one man's opinion of one unnamed organization.  Here is a perfect example of intention going wrong and here is an opportunity for you as a professional in the paralegal field to empower yourself.

We'd like your help.  Would you go to iConect poll and vote for the right to have voluntary certification?  iConect's intention seems to be to spin this for their own PR value.  I have no issue with that.  I do, however, have an issue with misinformation handed out and people voting based on misinformation. I have no idea whether iConect is for or against certification or just jumping in for the sake of jumping in. (It would make sense that they would be for certification because then law firms would feel better about the knowledge level of vendors – a question that has arisen time and time again.)

 It will take you less than a minute to vote.  Don't let 2 years of work by household names, top experts, attorneys, many paralegals, litigation support professionals and consultants go by the wayside because one publication tried to be Star Magazine and fell all over themselves possibly hurting the chances for thousands of legal professionals who want nothing more than to improve standards and move up what is now an invisible career ladder.   Certification does not have to be for everyone.  But those who feel it is for them or for those still discovering its meaning, need to understand the whole picture, not make judgements based on snippets of headlines cleverly placed that end up misleading not only the reader but an entire section of legal professionals who would have otherwise made a choice to better their career.

Go to: 

http://bit.ly/ri1rZ7  and vote for number 1.
BTW: I have taken a big chance writing this blog today as The Estrin Report is the only paralegal blog carried by law.com.  Law.com has been very good to this blog over the years.  However,  Law.com is owned by ALM who also owns LTN.  If my blog is thrown out of law.com, I guess you'll know why!  If that happens, you'll find me at the nearest Starbucks.  That'll be me: in the booth in the back sipping Tchai tea trying to figure out what the heck just happened.
Don't forget to vote! And thanks, for your continued support!