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My Thoughts on Taking the Certified Electronic Discovery Specialist (CEDS) Exam

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Last week I learned that I passed the Certified Electronic Discovery Specialist (CEDS) exam. CEDS is a new e‑discovery certification offered by the Association of Electronic Discovery Specialists, who claims that it is "the first independent e-discovery certification program that is not tied to a product, consulting service or software." It covers knowledge areas spanning the Electronic Discovery Reference Model, from information management and litigation readiness through data production. In addition, it covers e‑discovery project planning, project management, international discovery, and ethics. 

I was a member of the first group to take the exam and, in this post, I share my experiences with planning for and taking the exam. There is, however, one important caveat I must make before I begin: as one of the guinea pigs for for the pilot test, my experience may not completely reflect that of subsequent candidates. The number of questions on the pilot, for example, was higher than that of subsequent exams. Please be sure to read the ACEDS material carefully before applying for and taking the exam.

I found the experience of preparing for the CEDS exam similar to my experience preparing for the PMP. Like other professional certifications, to obtain the CEDS certificate you have to show relevant experience, formal education, and pass an objective test. Once certified, you must maintain your certification by paying an annual membership fee to the ACEDS. 
 
THE APPLICATION

Eligibility to sit for the exam is determined using a credit system. According the CEDS Handbook, "[c]andidates for the CEDS Examination must have a minimum of 40 qualifying credits based on education, training, other professional certification, and professional experience in the e-discovery field."

Professional Experience

I was somewhat surprised to find that the credit system is heavily weighted towards education and training, with only 15 of the 40 credits allowed to come from professional experience. Perhaps this is due to the difficulty in verifying professional experience and the diversity of skills and working environments falling under the e‑discovery umbrella. But I expect some people will take exception to this discounting of professional experience, especially for such a relatively new field that does yet benefit from many formal education programs. 

To determine the number of professional experience credits you can claim, you multiply the percentage of time you've spent annually on e‑discovery "or related activities" by five (the maximum number of credits allowed per year). You can only count your experience for the past three current years. So, if you worked in position that was 100% focused on e‑discovery, you can get 15 credits. I do not know what, if any, audit procedures are used to verify your professional experience, but you are asked to give a summary of your work and the contact information of your immediate supervisor for each relevant position.

The CEDS application's professional-experience-reporting requirements were mercifully easy compared to the PMP's requirement of reporting the number of hours spent on each type of project-management activity for every project you managed over the past five years. While the CEDS percentage-based system seems subjective and there does seem to be a strong incentive to guesstimate on the higher side, I wouldn't want to see it adopt a PMP-like approach. While the PMP's professional-experience-reporting requirements have a semblance of objectivity, they are unnecessarily cumbersome, yet just as subject to abuse. I would guess that a large percentage of PMP applicants are merely making honest guesses on how many project hours were spent on, say, planning versus closing stages. While PMI audits a sample of all applications received, the best that most of an applicant's prior supervisors are going to do is look at the hours report and sign it if it looks "about right." 

So, I don't think that requiring CEDS applicants to report the number of hours spent on various e‑discovery activities would improve the professional-experience-reporting requirements much more than the current percentage-based calculation. It would just make the application process far more burdensome while offering little if any improvement in objectivity and auditablity. 

My one objection to the professional-experience calculation is that you can only count the past three years. You can have many years of e‑discovery experience, but if you took an extended leave or were laid off for a significant part of any of the past three years, you would be unable to claim the maximum professional-experience credits. I understand that you want to ensure that credential holders are current on the newest technologies and practices, but I think you can do it without penalizing those who were laid off from their jobs or took extended paternity leave in the three years before applying for the certification. I think a more fair approach would be to allow someone to claim experience for the past five years up to 15 credits.

Education

Applicants can earn up to 15 credits for formal education. A high school degree or GED equivalent earns five credits. An associates degree or the equivalent earns seven credits. A bachelors degree or equivalent earns 10 credits. You can earn all 15 credits from a juris doctorate or other "relevant post-graduate" degree.

The 15 credits for a JD will raise some guffaws from many e-discovery experts. One of the common complaints aired among the e‑discovery community is that it isn't taught in law school. Also, a BA in interior design earns the same credits as a BS in computer science. Yet, post-graduate degrees must be in a "relevant" field. 

While I question the weight given to potentially unrelated formal education, which basically excuses the candidate from hours of directly relevant training, this seems to be the norm for professional certifications. 

Training

E-discovery training logically offers the largest number of potential credits. Candidates can claim up the 25 credits for all e‑discovery or related training attended in-house, external, live, or on-line. One credit is equivalent to 60 minutes of continuous training. Interestingly, you can also claim five credits each, for up to two professional certifications related to e‑discovery.

After counting my credits for experience and formal education, I only needed to claim 10 credits for training. Most of the CLE courses I take to maintain my law license are e‑discovery related, so documenting 10 hours of e‑discovery training was simple. I did not try to claim my PMP or any of my e‑discovery software certifications as I already had the requisite 40 credits and was unsure whether they would be considered as relevant professional certifications. 

THE EXAM

The exam when I took it had 212 multiple-choice questions covering 15 major areas of electronic discovery and 78 sub-topics. You are given four hours to complete the exam. 

Preparation

After submitting the application, I received the CEDS Exam Preparation Manual and instructions for registering for the test through Kryterion Inc.'s testing services. Because this exam is so new, there are no third-party preparation courses or materials to help you study for it. The manual provided by the ACEDS is the only material available that is specifically targeted for this exam. Assuming this credential catches on, I expect that this will change. 

The manual is a 119-page PDF document covering the material the exam tests. I hate reading lengthy PDF documents sitting at my desk almost as much as as I hate having to print anything. So, the first thing I did was convert the manual to an EPUB format and copied it over to my iPhone. 

There are no sample tests or practice questions and I wasn't even clear on how many questions there would be. To prepare, I simply read through the handbook, bookmarking any passages that contained content that was new to me or recommended practices that were different from those I followed, which I may sure to review again later. I felt very comfortable with all of the material it contained and I do think the exam stays true to the material in the handbook. The handbook tries to cover a lot in 119 pages, making it pretty dense reading with little in the way of examples or extended expectations. So, while all of the questions seem to be based on material covered in the manual, if there are areas you are weak in, you'll need to seek other sources to better understand the content. 

The Test Center

Kryterion scheduled me at the Institute for Information Industry (III) in Taipei. The III also hosts tests for Prometrics and other testing groups. The last certification exam I took was with Prometrics, but hosted at Taiwan University, so it was interesting to compare the two facilities. 

The testing center was professionally run and all procedures were strictly followed and in accordance with the materials ACEDS/Kryterion sent to me. The facility was clean, modern, comfortable, and the equipment was new and in good working order. I didn't request any special accommodations. Compared to other testing sites I've used in Taiwan, the facilities at this site were nicer than average. 

Security, however, was a little more lax than I'm used to. The proctor also manned the reception desk, I wasn't asked turn my pockets inside out after putting my personal effects in the locker, and I could exit and re-enter to go to the bathroom or water fountain without having to sign in and out. Overall, I think the only cheating you could get away with would be too time wasting to be worth it, but the security was just not up to the standards that I've been subjected to on other tests.

One complaint I had about the testing location is that the testing room is next to one or more lecture rooms. The sound of a lecture on the other side of the room was annoying and a little distracting. But I've experienced much worse with other tests (e.g., jackhammers right outside the test-room window during my LSAT; having to share a table with a leg-shaking test taker during the New York bar exam). 

The Test Interface

The software interface was fairly standard for these kinds of tests, but there was no demo or practice questions to get used to it, which would have been nice. Other systems I've used allow you to do a small number of practice questions to familiarize yourself with the interface before you begin the timed exam. It would be nice to include this feature in the interface, even though the interface is very simple.

Selecting an answer and navigating to the next question is simple. You can answer the questions out of order and jump around using the review questions button. I found having the time at the top-center of the exam interface distracting. I would like it at the bottom of the screen, but it is still nice to have it as part of the interface, rather than have to keep checking your own time piece. 

The Test Content

While there were some questions that I would argue do not have a single "best" answer, and I'm sure that there may be others that I could argue about if I got them wrong; overall, I felt it was representative of the knowledge and world view an experienced e-discovery specialist should have. I noted a number of typographical and spelling errors, but nothing that made made the questions ambiguous or would change the answer if corrected.

I found it challenging to complete the test on time and was rushing at the end. The questions, especially those at the beginning of the test, took more time to go through than I expected. Some questions required more time then they were worth overall. I know that this is a standard objective-test trick and I should have followed the basic tips that get you through time-pressured exams like the LSAT, etc.  I rarely use up all the time allocated to me on such exams, but I ran out of time on this exam.  

This may be because it was the pilot exam and contained extra questions. I've been told that based on the results and feedback of this pilot they are reducing the number of questions. Also, I usually prepare for these kinds of tests by running through some practice exams under timed conditions. At this time, however, there are no sample or practice tests for the CEDS exam.

I would be very interested in seeing which questions I got wrong. There are some that I feel were not well worded. Either I missed something about some questions (trick questions) or I am missing a philosophical stance that the ACEDS takes. For example, I found myself spending more time than I should have thinking about document-review questions. I've been successfully managing large teams of U.S. and non-U.S. document-review attorneys for years. For too many of the document-review questions I found myself thinking "it depends" and over analyzing them until I just had to shrug my shoulders and take a best guess.

Legal-hold questions, on the other hand, seemed easy and straight forward to me. 

The collection, search, and culling questions were straight forward, but many took more time to read and understand than the others. I'm sure I got a number of these wrong simply because of poor time allocation. Some involve math, but the math skills required are very rudimentary and you do not have to memorize any formulas for this exam.

It would be interesting to get a breakdown to show my weak and strong areas. What percentage of doc-review questions did I get right versus collection questions, etc. 

After the Test
Because I was in the pilot test group, it took several months to learn that I passed the exam. I took the exam on December 17th and was informed that I passed on March 17th. Going forward, however, test takers will learn whether or not they passed the exam immediately upon completing it. I was informed that I passed by a personal phone call from Gregory Calpakis, Executive Director of ACEDS. This was unexpected, and a nice touch. 

CONCLUSION

Overall, I feel that the CEDS exam will provide a means for attorneys and litigation-support professionals to highlight their e‑discovery expertise and distinguish themselves from from the growing number of people entering the field. Many of my readers reasonably question the value of professional certifications and I've written a number of posts that discuss the usefulness of the PMP to project managers and their employers (e.g., here and here). Like any professional certification, the CEDS will not guarantee competence and potential employers still must do their due diligence when hiring certified e‑discovery specialists. What it does show is commitment to the field and an understanding of the core e‑discovery knowledge areas and best practices. 

As always, your questions and comments are welcome. 

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on March 21, 2011 12:29 AM.

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