Privacy Law Certification: The PLS Designation

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Privacy Law Specialist

Many lawyers want to know how to obtain a privacy law certification. If you’ve read our other article “What is the CIPP/US Certification”, you already know that obtaining the Certified Information Privacy Professional / U.S. (CIPP/US) certification means that you have advanced knowledge of U.S. privacy laws and regulations, including how those laws and regulations are applied. Obtaining CIPP/US certification, for all practical purposes, indicates to others that you are expert in U.S.-based privacy law.

For those subject to attorney ethics rules, however, additional steps are often required to claim that you are a true specialist in “privacy law.” For lawyers practicing in an overwhelming majority of states, this means that you must become certified as a Privacy Law Specialist (PLS).

What is the Privacy Law Specialist (PLS) Designation?

The Privacy Law Specialist designation is one of several certifications administered by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), a U.S.-based non-profit organization that has a global reach. The IAPP administers many certifications in the privacy and data protection field, including separate CIPP certifications for the United States, Europe, Asia, and Canada, as well as the Certified Information Privacy Manager (CIPM) and Certified Information Privacy Technologist (CIPT) certifications.

The PLS certification is the product of IAPP’s accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA) to certify lawyers in the specialty practice area of Privacy Law. It is the first and only such designation that the ABA has accredited to verify that a U.S. lawyer has the experience and knowledge to specialize in the rapidly evolving field of privacy.

What is Required to Obtain PLS Certification?

Among the certifications administered by the IAPP, the PLS certification has the most onerous list of requirements. In fact, the IAPP requires that students earn both the CIPP/US, and one of either the CIPM or CIPT certifications, as a prerequisite to obtaining PLS certification. To earn any of these prerequisite certifications, you must take and pass qualifying examinations.

The full list of requirements to obtain PLS certification includes:

Why is Obtaining a PLS Certification Important?

Attorneys across the U.S. are subject to the ethics rules of every jurisdiction for which they are a member of the bar. Most states have specific rules indicating when, and under what conditions, a lawyer may represent themselves as a “specialist” or “expert” in various fields of legal practice. If you are a member of a state bar and claim to be a specialist in “privacy law” without meeting the necessary requirements, you may find yourself subject to an attorney ethics complaint.

A significant number of states specifically require ABA accreditation of a specialty area of law before members of that bar may represent themselves as such a specialist. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not all states allow attorneys to claim expertise or specialization under any circumstance. That is true in some states, even if the lawyer has obtained ABA accredited status as a specialist or expert.

What Do Different States Have to Say About It?

Below is a list of how states approach the question of whether an attorney may represent themselves as a “specialist” in Privacy Law, or in another specialized field of practice. Regardless of the below list, you should consult your own state’s ethics laws prior to making any formal representation that you are a “specialist” or “expert” in the field of Privacy Law.

States that require ABA accreditation to claim specialization:

States where no ABA accreditation is required:

States that recognize but do not require ABA accreditation:

States that prohibit claims of specialization:

States that recognize specialization but have state-specific accreditation requirements:

From the states included in the final category above, Alabama, Minnesota, and Texas have all granted accreditation to the IAPP’s PLS certification. In other words, each of these states recognize the PLS certification as adequate for members of their state bar to represent themselves as a specialist in Privacy Law.

To summarize, the PLS certification will allow an attorney to claim that he or she is a specialist in privacy law in at least 37 states across the U.S.

How Can Privacy Bootcamp Help You Obtain the PLS Certification?

Privacy Bootcamp is the all-in-one stop for online training for the CIPP/US and CIPM certification exams. We are the leaders in online IAPP training, having helped students earn more than 1,000 certifications from the IAPP.

We offer discounted rates for students that enroll in both our CIPP/US and CIPM courses at the same time. Doing so will allow you to save 10% on the price of each course. And with the Privacy Bootcamp Guarantee (full terms available here), you can study with peace of mind, knowing that if you complete one of our courses and for some reason do not pass the actual exam, you are entitled to a full refund of the price of the course. So, start your journey toward PLS certification, and study the smart way with Privacy Bootcamp.

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