Certification ALSP Style

Joe Howie, an old friend and prinicpal at Howie Consulting, is active in the Association of Litigation Support Professonals.  In that capacity, her recently posted the following about the ALSP Certification Program.

This posting is being submitted on behalf of ALSP by Espe Rebollar, Windy Brown and Deborah Coram

There’s widespread recognition that certification would be a positive step forward for litigation support in general and e-Discovery in particular, for both the certified individuals and the organizations that employ them. However, not all certifications are created equal and the value of any particular certification process is directly related to the rigor of the certification development process and the characteristics of the sponsoring organization. As co-founders and leaders of the Association of Litigation Support Professionals (ALSP) we’d like to describe the value that ALSP brings to the certification process and share our vision of certification.

About ALSP. One of the primary reasons that ALSP was formed was to provide for certification. This is set forth very clearly in our by-laws which, in keeping with the ALSP policy of transparency, are set forth on the ALSP Web site (www.alsponline.org).  Recognizing that we had to build credibility before we presented ourselves to the industry as a qualified certifying agency, ALSP has spent the first year of its incorporation building our organization and laying the groundwork for a rigorous and thorough certification program. Milestones we have completed include:

· Became a not-for-profit, legally incorporated 501(c)(6) corporation.

· Contracted SmithBucklin, the world’s largest association management firm, to provide administrative support and guidance. This means that the staff reports to the ALSP board as part of the contractual relationship and that the staff receives guidance, training and oversight from their employer, Smith Bucklin which manages 320 trade associations, professional groups, technology user groups and government institutes/agencies, thereby assuring quality and continuity.

· Established over 15 local chapters including several in Canada.

· Developed membership benefits including a monthly newsletter and free educational Webcasts.

· Completed the organizational governance framework like electing officers, assisting chapters in becoming separately incorporated, setting up bank accounts, accounting systems and auditing processes.

· Obtained liability insurance for the benefit of ALSP officers, directors and staff.

· Developed the framework and plan for the independent certification process (more below).

ALSP has an inclusionary membership policy which specifically encourages participation from the entire litigation support industry.  Our members come from leading law firms, corporate legal departments, government legal offices litigation support software development companies and service providers from all over North America, Europe and .  ALSP encourages this inclusionary policy as it believes a certification process must be appropriate, valid and approved by the entire industry.  We believe that the skills, knowledge and experiences gained by working in the various sectors vary considerably and the only valid certification process would be one that actively incorporates the views of all sectors.



Statistically-Valid and Legally-Defensible Certifications. SmithBucklin has guided several professional and industry trade associations through the certification process and has experts in certification on staff. Their advice and guidance for this process has been invaluable, particularly around the specifics of certification.   We have learned that as certification becomes increasingly valuable to individual professionals and the organizations that employ them, certification applicants who fail to become certified could file law suits challenging the validity of the certification process, exposing the sponsoring organization and potentially its officers and directors to liability.

Accordingly, it is essential that the certification process has to be statistically valid and legally defensible. While everyone would like to have a certification program in place now, the reality is that building a proper certification program is a four-step process that ought to involve the services of a highly qualified psychometrician from a specialized test development company.

Here is a brief summary of the steps in a certification development process which conforms to guidelines established by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and the National Organization of Competency Assurance:

1.    Job Analysis:  A panel of subject matter experts from a broad cross-section of industry writes up what they do at their jobs, what they need to know, how often they do it and how important those tasks are.

2.    Test Specifications: The results of the job analysis survey are tabulated and analyzed by the psychometrician and subject matter experts to create a final report —the basis for the test specification or the exam content outline.

3.    Test Development: Working from the exam content outline, a panel of subject matter experts prepares items or questions and answers for the topics on the outline. After the initial items are prepared, the test development panel meets as a group to assess the various items to check for ambiguity and correctness of answers so that one optional answer doesn’t tip off the correct response, make it easy to eliminate an incorrect answer, etc.

4.    Cut-Score Study: After the exam is administered the first time, another panel determines the cut-score; i.e., the score that will be used to determine who passed or failed the certification.

To read about the development steps in more detail, please visit www.alsponline.org. This process is rigorous, time-consuming and expensive. ALSP issued an RFP to testing companies for the certification process, reviewed the responses, selected several potential companies, interviewed them and selected one which provides a good fit for ALSP objectives.  ALSP has also done private surveys of key individuals within law firms, corporate legal departments and software and services providers to validate the interest in certification.

An appreciable amount of money needs to be raised by a certifying body in order to implement this process.  When the economic downturn hit with full force early this year, ALSP opted to delay the beginning of a funding drive until the economy started to improve, which it appears it is now doing.  ALSP will in the near future be launching a funding drive to cover the costs of a statistically-valid and legally-defensible certification program.  We will be asking organizations, individuals and chapters to contribute to this important project; all money raised for this purpose will be kept in separate funds and used only for certification.  The funds raised will be reported and administered in a public fashion so as to maintain full accountability to the entire industry.

The training or course work required to pass the certification exam/s is an entirely different area.   ALSP will not be offering a “course” that results in certification of those who pass the course; while ALSP will offer educational programs as part of its member benefits, those people who are directly involved in the certification program will not be involved in developing an ALSP program to help candidates pass the exam.

In summary we would like to highlight the following:

· ALSP is an existing, functioning not-for-profit corporation with staff members that are highly qualified in the certification process.

· ALSP has demonstrated its commitment to transparency and inclusiveness; it welcomes the participation of all qualified individuals, groups and organizations in the certification development process and it welcomes any suggestions or guidance on how to ensure the development of a certification process that truly measures the ability of professionals to perform.

· ALSP has spent a long time establishing the correct foundations, administration, expertise and independence to become an independent and accountable certifying body to the litigation support profession.

· ALSP is a long way down the path of creating a certification program including the upcoming launch of  fundraising efforts to acquire the funds to commence the certification process — we will be releasing details within the next month and are happy to speak to individuals or companies wishing to contribute.



1 comment so far

  1. Jesse Wilkins on

    If ALSP rigorously adheres to the plan it has laid out this should be a very good certification. Another option which might be of value for ALSP is to review ISO 17024, which is the (another) standard for accreditation for personnel certification programs. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) uses ISO 17024 to accredit certification programs. See e.g. https://www.ansica.org/wwwversion2/outside/PERgeneral.asp?menuID=2 for more details on the ANSI accreditation process.

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