I have a fantastic story to share about a law firm that has created a certification program that develops internal “power users” into a power support team. The firm is Eckert Seamans and this is their story.
Last year, in the bucolic days of 2019, Eckert Seamans proactively decided that they wanted to provide next-level support to their firm’s attorneys and staff on several production platforms: Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe.
Carla Healy, the firm’s Learning and Development Specialist, explains, “Our goal was to have internal experts in the applications most used by attorneys and staff. When a request for assistance requires more technical or in-depth knowledge, we now have certified specialists who can help!”
How did the firm develop and launch their Certified Application Specialist (CAS) program? Let me walk you through the steps, because this is a model that many firms can follow.
Certified Application Specialists
Carla says that developing the CAS program required a team approach from the outset.
“This was a year-long team effort, with our Director of HR and Benefits Myra Kilgore, Manager of Employee Relations & Inclusion Danielle Mundekis, and myself,” she explains. “The three of us developed the curriculum, the program structure, and even professional development rewards for the people who achieve certification.”
Let’s Break Down the Elements Involved in the Eckert Seamans CAS Program
The Eckert Seamans CAS program is prestigious and rigorous, so the application process is limited to very dedicated candidates. The firm designates a specific number of specialists on each platform, including:
- Word: 4 specialists
- Excel: 2 specialists
- Adobe: 2 specialists
- PowerPoint: 2 specialists
Initially, the firm sent out an email titled, “Opportunity is Knocking. Who Will Answer?” It included the following text:
This is your opportunity to expand and build your skills to provide a level of expertise to all attorneys and staff firm-wide by becoming a Certified Application Specialist (CAS). A CAS will provide a resource for attorneys and staff in the event that expert assistance beyond the basic and requisite knowledge requirement is needed for the following applications: Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe.
This opportunity does have a limited number of spots available; therefore, consideration will be given in the order in which requests are received.
The Certified Application Specialist (CAS) Program provides a resource for attorneys and staff in the event that expert assistance beyond the basic and requisite knowledge requirement is needed within a particular advanced skillset of a firm-related technological application.
Certified Application Specialist (CAS):
To become a CAS, an eligible employee must complete the curriculum of on-line courses and pass a coordinating comprehensive exam focused on a particular application. The content of the exam will be determined and developed by the firm’s Learning & Development Specialist, in coordination with the Human Resources Director and Office Managers. Eligible employees should submit a request via email to their Office Manager to begin the process. Once an employee achieves certification of expertise in an application, they are able to complete work and provide assistance as a Certified Application Specialist for one year from the date of the successfully completed examination. This period is referred to as the certification year. To maintain certification, eligible employees must take the recertification exam within the ninety (90) days prior to their certification’s expiration date. They will then have until thirty (30) days before their certification expires to pass their recertification examination(s). Employees may obtain certification in maximum of one application.
So far, six people have completed the program and achieved specialist certification: three in Word, two in Excel, one in Adobe. Four more are working through the curriculum.
After achieving certification, Kelley O’Brien, a Legal Assistant in the firm’s Harrisburg, Pennsylvania office, said, “I think the CAS program helps to alleviate some of the stress and strain that my colleagues and I feel from time to time. The CAS program allows those who have been certified to keep up their skills in a particular application and have a positive impact with the people we work with every day. The firm also awards a quarterly bonus, which encourages others to become certified. When I can help someone who is struggling with a Word document, it gives me a feeling of gratification, like a pat on the back, and we all need that once in a while.”
As a SavvyAcademy LMS subscriber, Eckert Seamans has access to the complete SavvySMART Content Library. Using that library, and with support from Savvy’s Chief of Instructional Design Terry Aurit, Carla developed a rigorous, challenging curriculum for certification in each of the identified platforms.
The applicants have 90 days to complete the coursework and pass the 50-question quiz, of which they can only miss four questions. Applicants who fail the first quiz must wait 30 days to take the test again. If they fail a second time, they have to wait a full year to be considered again for the program.
Legal Assistant Maureen Grasso achieved certification and said, “I think the CAS program is a great way to help others solve a quick problem. After taking my Savvy refresher courses, I feel my knowledge is good enough to be a help to others and yet I still seem to learn something new along the way.”
Professional Development Rewards
So, why on earth would these people choose to pursue such a demanding course load? Because the firm rewards them!
Certified Application Specialists receive a bonus for every three months that they hold their certification, and they can be certified for three years before stepping aside to let someone else hold the spot. Then, they must wait one year before applying again. Carla says this proves to the specialists that that their work is important.
One of the firm’s paralegals, Nicolas A. Ahumada, recently achieved CAS status in Excel and said, “I learned a great deal. The exam itself had me question myself a few times and I had to really think about them, so it definitely was not easy! More importantly, as I went through these courses, I was constantly thinking about how I could have applied these skills to my previous Excel work and how future ones can be improved with my newly acquired knowledge and skills. With that said, I am very excited to work on future Excel projects to put my skills to the test. Thanks again!”
How it All Comes Together
Now that the program is up and running, with six specialists already available to help and four more working toward their goal, the firm is starting to enjoy the benefits of the power support.
In order to access a CAS, users place a request through the firm’s virtual support portal. Office Manager Donna Frati assesses the need, and if it appears to be an advanced question, she assigns it to the appropriate CAS. Specialists are required to maintain logs of the requests they handle, including for whom the work was completed.
“The timing of this program was perfect,” says Carla, reflecting on the firm’s move to working remotely during COVID. “And it will be a huge benefit as we move forward. These certified specialists assure that we have the support that our attorneys and staff need, when they need it. Even if the request is advanced, we know we have the staff who can take a deep dive into the issue and resolve the problem.”