I recently had the opportunity to talk with Nancy Guyton, a board certified real property specialist in Wilmington. Guyton earned her undergraduate degree from Smith College and her law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. After practicing with Murchison, Taylor & Gibson, PLLC for 14 years, Ms. Guyton served as general counsel to Zimmer Development Company and is now a sole practitioner. She became a board certified specialist in both commercial and residential real property law in 1995. Following are some of her comments about the specialization program and the impact it's had on her career.
Q: Why did you pursue certification?
I was in law school with Alice Mine, the program's executive director, and over the years she encouraged me to apply. I knew that she believed strongly in the program and we both felt it was a mark of professionalism as well as a good way to assist with consumer protection. I also believed it would help distinguish my practice, as there was only one other certified specialist in the Wilmington area at the time.
Q: How did you prepare for the examination?
To be honest, I over-prepared for the examination! I reviewed the applicable statutes, read all of the reported appellate real property cases in the previous year and a half, read and outlined Webster's Real Estate Law in North Carolina, read all of the North Carolina Bar Association Real Property Section newsletters published in the prior 3-4 years, and reviewed CLE course manuscripts. Looking back, I probably wouldn't do all of that again, but it was good to review the issues that were not ordinarily seen in my daily practice.
Q: Was the certification process valuable to you in any way?
The experience of studying for the exam, taking the time to put all of the information together, was very valuable. I felt very much "on top of my game" after passing the exam.
Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice?
It has been very helpful. I know I've been retained by more clients as a result of my certification and my clients feel good about their decision to hire me. A lot of my business is generated through referrals and my clients often tell others about my certification and they feel good about the services I provide. My practice focuses on small business formation and operations as well as real property law, and many of my clients who start out with business needs find they need assistance with commercial real property issues as well. As they learn about my certification, it gives them a great deal of confidence in my work.
In addition, I have been asked to serve as an expert in real property cases that are in litigation and I know that my certification played a huge role in those hiring decisions.
Q: Who are your best referral sources?
Most of my referrals come from my clients and other lawyers. My firm's website discusses the work I do in both small business formation and real property. Recently I got a substantial international client from the website due to my real property board certification. I was happy I had listed my certification so prominently on the site!
Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?
Unauthorized practice is always a big topic for the residential real property bar. Currently the economy is leading to a greater number of foreclosures and mechanics and materialsmens liens filings and the legal issues that result. We're all seeing claims for new construction that has stalled and situations where general contractors haven't paid their subs. In addition, issues have arisen for consumers who are upside down in their mortgages, including short sales.
Q: How do you stay current in your field?
One of the things I appreciate most about certification is the increased requirement for continuing legal education. I regularly attend real property CLE's that help keep me on top of the changes and developments in the law. I read the Lawyer's Weekly case summaries, the NCBA newsletters, and other publications and participate in real property listservs. It is important to clients that we make the effort to remain informed.
Q: How does specialization benefit the public and the profession?
The program provides a huge benefit for the public. It helps consumers get the right lawyer for their situation the first time around. We all know that consumers are becoming more and more reluctant to pay for services. Clients are often reluctant to hire lawyers for the simple issues, but recognize they need lawyers for more complex matters. Specialization is important in the hiring decisions clients make in these instances. Board certified specialists protect legal consumers and the public in general by providing reliable advice and expertise in their particular legal specialties. Specialists must also keep abreast of the subject matter and maintain a broad knowledge base in their field of expertise. Certified lawyers understand that they must be on the top of their legal game and that's good for the profession overall.
Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?
I think board certification is going to become more and more important in the coming years and attorneys who don't take this step will be missing out. Specialization is a great opportunity to refresh your knowledge of the subject area and keep yourself on top of the law in your field of expertise. If you are doing a good job with your work product now, the exam shouldn't scare you. Don't let a fear of the exam stop you from taking this important step in your legal career.
For more information on the State Bar's specialization programs please visit us on the web at www.nclawspecialists.gov.