The IRWA: Is It Right For You?

You often hear landmen talking about the AAPL (American Association of Professional Landmen), but it’s not as often that you hear about the IRWA (International Right of Way Association).  In fact, it’s fairly common to meet right of way agents who aren’t familiar with the IRWA.  I think it is a good organization, and that more than a few of you might benefit from including them in your professional networking portfolio.

You might think, from the name, that it is comprised of only right of way agents, but you couldn’t be further from the truth.  The IRWA has members from a whole host disciplines including not only acquisition agents, but appraisers, environmental professionals, engineers, lawyers, property managers, relocation agents, surveyors, and title professionals.  While the majority of their 10,000 members are in the continental United States, they also have chapters in Alaska, Canada, and South Africa.  With 76 local chapters there is probably one near you.

Membership

The IRWA addresses membership a little differently the AAPL.  When you join the IRWA you also simultaneously join a local chapter, so the two aren’t separate transactions.  You’ll also find that membership does not require sponsors, which is something that some AAPL members have found to be an irritant.  I do have to note that the IRWA membership fees are higher than that of the AAPL, clocking in at $205/year for the IRWA and $10-$25/year for local chapters.

You’ll also find a stark difference in the membership of the IRWA versus what you might see in the AAPL.  In my experience many of the members are full-time employees, this probably because many of the major right of way acquisition firms hire their agents as full-time employees.  The independent is a rarer find in large scale right of way work.  You’ll also probably notice that there are fewer exploration companies.  I’ve found that you see a large number of midstream companies, right of way acquisition firms, and utility companies.  All three of those categories hold good career options for a landman / right of way agent.

Education

The IRWA has a large variety of classes which are taught throughout the year, their website claims that they have 400 classroom based classes annually.  Of course, not all of these classes will be focused on right of way and title issues, but browsing through the education calendar I came across several classes that looked interesting in Texas:

Principles of Real Estate Negotiation – Richardson, Texas

Principles of Land Acquisition – Austin, Texas

Legal Aspects of Easements – Richardson, Texas

Right of Way Agents Development Program – Austin, TX

If you are serious about continuing education, I can imagine that one of those courses wouldn’t interest you.  Of course, there were many others, and you can easily view the list of courses in the Course Descriptions section of their webpage.  Many of the basic courses, including all the courses I listed above, are available online as well.  I’ve been to several of the IRWA’s education conferences and I can vouch for the quality of their presentation.

Certification / Credentialing

Similar to the certification path of the AAPL, the IRWA has it’s own credentialing program.  The career path that the IRWA lays out in it’s Career Path Overview is as follows:

Right of Way Agent (RWA) – The Right of Way Agent has a minimum of a two year degree or met in lieu requirements; has a minimum of one year of experience; has completed 40 units in beginning courses in IRWA approved courses or has demonstrated knowledge through challenging the exams of the courses; and has taken 8 units in an IRWA ethics course.

Associate Right of Way Professional (ARWP) – The Associate Right of Way Professional has achieved the Right of Way Agent certification or met the qualifications; has a minimum of two years of experience; has completed 88 units in beginning, or intermediate IRWA approved courses or has demonstrated knowledge through challenging the exams of the beginning courses; and has taken 8 units in an IRWA ethics course (within the past 5 years). The Associate Right of Way Professional recertifies every 5 years by completing 24 units Continuing Education (earned through a combination of ethics, IRWA approved courses, conferences and seminars) in each recertification cycle.

Right of Way Professional (RWP) – The Right of Way Professional has previously earned the Associate Right of Way Professional certification or met qualifications; has a minimum of three years of experience; has completed 144 units in beginning, intermediate or advanced IRWA approved courses or has demonstrated knowledge through challenging the exams of the beginning courses; and has taken 8 units in an IRWA ethics course (within the past 5 years). The Right of Way Professional recertifies every 5 years by completing 48 units of Continuing Education (earned through a combination of ethics, IRWA approved courses, conferences and seminars) in each recertification cycle.

Senior Right of Way Professional (SR/WA) – The Senior Right of Way Professional has previously earned the Right of Way Professional certification or met qualifications; has a minimum of a university degree or met in lieu of requirements; has a minimum of five years of experience; has completed 208 units in beginning, intermediate or advanced courses over seven disciplines, has taken 8 units in an IRWA ethics course (within the past 5 years) and successfully passed the SR/WA capstone exam. The Senior Right of Way Professional recertifies every 5 years by completing 72 units of Continuing Education (earned through a combination of ethics, IRWA approved courses,
conferences and seminars) in each recertification cycle.

This most obvious difference between the AAPL and IRWA certification programs is that the IRWA credentials require a significantly higher amount of coursework.  I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing, but a field landman would have to realize that these classes cost money (and time).  The majority of those with the SR/WA credential seem to be those who work for a company who will cover the cost and expenses of the required classes.

The other obvious difference between to the organizations certification requirements are that the IRWA doesn’t require the applicant to be ‘sponsored’.  I believe this is because of the aforementioned increases education requirements.  If an applicant to the RWA program has completed 40 units of coursework, and 8 units of ethics — it’s assumed that they are deserving of the credential.  While this does add the cost of the credential, it also negates a problem that many field landmen have with the AAPL certification process.

Closing

While the IRWA isn’t for everyone, it may be a great alternative or enhancement for some of you.  I know that right of way has gotten me through some slow times in my career, and I met some very helpful people along the way.  Many of them were members the IRWA.

For those of you that see value, I’d suggest contacting the leadership of a chapter or region that you would belong.  I think you’ll find a great group of people that are genuinely helpful.

Randy Young

Randy Young

Randy is a land consultant with experience in field and in-house land work, land administration, and software consulting with systems used in the land management business. He is an active member of the AAPL, HAPL, and NHAPL and is a regular attendee of industry functions.

Randy’s latest projects have included land data systems integrations, with a focus on Quorum Land System.