American Bar Association Withdraws Privacy Specialist Proposal

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By Jimmy H. Koo

The American Bar Association didn’t consider a resolution that would have allowed lawyers to advertise themselves as privacy specialists, after the measure was pulled by its sponsor Aug. 14.

The ABA House of Delegates was scheduled to vote on whether to allow privacy competency certifications by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) to act as the standard for a lawyer to market themselves as a privacy specialist. But the association agreed to postpone the vote “in order to allow certain ABA sections time to provide more input into the process,” IAPP President and CEO Trevor Hughes said in an Aug. 14 email to members.

The next House of Delegates meeting is February 2018. The ABA’s Standing Committee on Specialization remains in favor of the IAPP program and will work within the ABA to “resolve any concerns” before then, Hughes said in the email.

The number of attorneys involved in representing clients on privacy and data security issues has grown dramatically over the last several years. Establishing such work as a specialty would allow attorneys to meet ethical requirements that limit what lawyers may say in ads and other public announcements, while also establishing a verifiable privacy specialty certification standard on which potential clients could rely to assure competency in the subject area.

More Input

The IAPP communications office told Bloomberg BNA that the organization had no further comment on the resolution’s withdrawal.

Martin Whittaker, the ABA’s senior counsel on specialization, told Bloomberg BNA that although the authority to withdraw the resolution rested with the sponsor, the Standing Committee on Specialization, the IAPP fully agreed with the committee’s decision.

Both the committee and IAPP “are committed to the Resolution’s passage, soon, and are beginning aggressive effort to communicate with other interested ABA entities to gather, analyze, and address their questions and concerns,” he said.

In many states, legal specialist certification programs must gain ABA and state regulatory approval, or both, according to the specialization committee. Additionally, even though attorneys may be certified by a private program, states have different rules governing how lawyers may communicate their certification.

ABA-accredited private certification programs include specializations in professional liability, estate planning, and trial advocacy.

Privacy professionals previously told Bloomberg BNA that the IAPP certification testing process provides a good benchmark because it is rigorous and requires dedicated preparation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jimmy H. Koo in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald Aplin at

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Further information on the resolution is available at

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