I obtained the Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS) certification in May and was recently asked about my experience, so I thought I'd share some quick thoughts with folks considering the course.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
I purchased the CEDS prep course on impulse. ACEDS was running a Cyber Monday special in November of 2020 that would save my employer a few hundred dollars (Proteus pays for industry certifications). Upon purchase, you have 12 months to access the course materials and sit for the exam - and ACEDS recommends dedicating approximately 40 hours to studying. "Perfect!" I thought. "I'll block 30 minutes each morning to study and be done by February or March."
Naturally, client deadlines and life outside the office took precedence. Before I knew it, November 2021 rolled around and I had to purchase a six month course extension. Surely that was the motivation I needed to stick to a disciplined study schedule.
These self-inflicted delays resulted in unnecessary aggravation, so my advice to you:
- Be honest about how heavy a load you're carrying at work and at home and whether you can dedicate adequate preparation time.
- Consider purchasing the course with a co-worker or industry peer so you have an accountability partner.
- Book your exam date right away to create more accountability so you don't delay indefinitely.
Studying for the Exam
The CEDS exam prep materials are excellent. In addition to approximately 120 pages of content walking through information governance, the EDRM, and cross-border discovery, there are live and on-demand webinars, study groups, and a mentorship program you can take advantage of.
Did I do those things? Of course not. But that's to my detriment, not my credit.
I ended up taking over a corner of a Starbucks near my in-laws house in Lake Forest, IL for 2.5 days. It was sufficient - I passed - but in my opinion one of the principal benefits of involvement with ACEDS is the network and community it can build, and I certainly lacked that compared to other folks I know. Further, it created another element of pressure because I knew going into the exam that I hadn't taken advantage of all the resources, so if I failed I had no one to blame but myself.
One note about my method of study: I'm squarely a millennial, but I have an old soul. And I realize the irony since I work in electronic discovery, but I'm a paper guy. I printed out materials and had highlighters and wrote notes in margins. I just had to be honest with myself: on the rare occasions I took a laptop to class during undergrad or my MBA, I'd end up spending time on ESPN or the Wall Street Journal or looking at my investment portfolio and not paying attention to the task at hand. Prepare in the manner best suited to your comfort level.
After going through the available resources, I took the practice exam and graded it. Then, I referred to the highlights and notes I'd previously taken to understand my mistake. Again, the materials were very clear, so if you're diligent you'll be prepared.
My key takeaways:
- Be honest about the gaps in your knowledge and utilize the appropriate resources to fill those gaps.
- Create a realistic study plan and bake it into your calendar.
- Build flexibility into account for unexpected work projects, vacations, illnesses, etc.
I lost track of the number of lattes and Americanos devoured here over 2.5 days.
Taking the Exam
You'll register to take the exam at an approved testing facility; mine was at a community college about 15 minutes from my home.
Nothing was allowed into the testing room: no snacks, water, car keys, wallets, etc. The proctors watched me power down my phone and put my belongings into a locker; they took my eyeglasses and inspected them, and they visually inspected around my ears to ensure I wasn't wearing any communications devices.
The exam is about 140 multiple choice questions presented as hypotheticals. Don't expect a question like "What is the definition of GDPR?" Instead, expect something like "A multinational company with its main offices in Germany does business in the US and has been sued by a plaintiff in New York City. The suit alleges conspiracy to fix prices in US markets. The multinational company has potentially relevant ESI in the possession of German employees residing on its servers in Munich. In what way will the GDPR most likely affect discovery in this case?"
My key takeaways:
- Be prepared! You will not have the luxury of going at a leisurely pace since there is only four hours allotted to complete the exam.
- Same as you've heard since middle school: sleep well, eat some protein, be well hydrated and all that jazz.
- Keep things in perspective: about 70% of people who site for the exam pass. Failure isn't fatal or final: you can take the exam again, you still have your job, your mom and your dog still love you, etc. etc. And honestly, if nearly everyone passed the first time and not much studying was required, the certification wouldn't mean much. It's the challenge that makes it a real accomplishment.
The Benefits are Real
Here are some of the benefits that I've experienced after obtaining the CEDS credential:
- It validates your knowledge and gives you confidence. I'm an industry transplant, and I don't work in programs like Relativity, Reveal, or Everlaw every day. This exam is fairly rigorous and gives me credibility to speak with clients on a wide variety of situations.
- Employers care and recruiters notice. After I posted about my certification on LinkedIn, I had multiple recruiters message me privately asking whether I was "in the market." I'm fortunate to be exactly where I want, but if you're considering what the next 3-5 years look like for you, this will open up your options - and potentially increase your compensation.
- The community is real. As I was studying in that Lake Forest, IL Starbucks, a stranger walked up and said, "how's your prep for the CEDS exam coming?" I struck up a friendship with the person who asked (hi Kim!), who introduced me to Tara Emory, who I met a few weeks later when she was in Indianapolis for the MER conference. Another person in town for MER? Michael Quartararo, President of ACEDS. My certificate arrived in the mail mid-morning, and that evening he and I were having drinks at St. Elmo's.
So, take stock of your time, plan accordingly, and feel free to reach out if you have questions or want to talk about it. Good luck!