How the CPLP Helped Me Create a Whole New Competency Model

Monday, March 9, 2015

Several years ago, I participated in a discussion hosted by members of the Professional Development Consortium (PDC) about developing a competency model for legal professional development practitioners. The PDC is a group of professionals at law firms, government agencies, and corporations who are responsible for developing and administering training and continuing professional development for lawyers. 

At that time, most of the individuals responsible for the professional development of attorneys were themselves attorneys with a law degree, but little, if any, education, experience, or expertise in organization development, adult learning, or human performance improvement. They had an idea of what they wanted to create—a competency model—but didn’t know how to go about it. This is where I came in. 

I’ve spent more than 30 years in the learning and development field and have a Master of Science degree in organizational development. My specialties include adult learning, neurolinguistic programming, organization development and change, and human performance improvement. When one of the attendees asked, “What is a core competency and where can I get one?” I knew I had to help. 

Thus began a four-year, four-phase project. The principle objective was to develop a model broad enough to be relevant to the entire PDC membership, while also being specific enough to give individuals and firms a powerful organizational tool that linked individual performance goals with organizational goals and strategies. 

Around the time I began developing the PDC competency model, I embarked on my journey to attain the certified professional in learning and performance (CPLP) certification. I decided the credential would further enhance my professional reputation as an expert in learning and development. I figured that with my many years of experience as a trainer and professor, the process would be a snap and I’d knock it out in a week or so. Oh, how wrong I was! 


I took the practice exam thinking I would just sail through and that would be that. Talk about a humbling experience—and a wake-up call. How could I say I was a professional and an expert if I couldn’t even finish the practice exam? Would my PDC colleagues have confidence in a competency model I helped develop for the legal industry if I couldn’t demonstrate my own competency in learning and development? Clearly I needed a plan. 

I began by reading everything I could about the CPLP certification process. Then I developed a timeline, joined a study group, bought the ATD Learning System, studied every handbook and article I could get my hands on, and participated in a two-day preparation workshop. Once I decided I was ready to take the exam, I spent at least six months studying and passed it on the first try in May 2014. What a great feeling to list “achieved CPLP certification” as a key accomplishment on my annual self-evaluation! 

The skills and knowledge I gained during my CPLP journey were invaluable to me as I guided my PDC team through the development of the first competency model designed specifically for legal professional development practitioners. The ATD Competency Model became the template for our PDC model, from the methodology based on ATD guidelines and best practices to the final product—a strategic framework for talent management and development for legal professional development practitioners. 

More importantly, the CPLP certification gave my colleagues confidence that the product we produced was a sound and valuable resource, and a powerful organizational tool that provides practitioners with a clear path to grow and develop. 

And the lessons learned? Anything worth achieving is going to take lots of hard work and energy. Set a goal, then develop a plan to achieve that goal. Finally, never, ever give up. That sense of accomplishment is so worth it! 

Learn more about the CPLP certification.

About the Author
Kathleen Dunn is the director of learning and professional development at Squire Patton Boggs. She has more than 30 years of experience in organizational development and learning, coaching, and talent management. Kathleen is on the board of directors of the Professional Development Consortium and a faculty member at the Catholic University of America.
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