An Interview with Robert “Bob” Mason, Board Certified Specialist in Elder Law
Q: What motivated you to become a specialist?
I moved to North Carolina from a state (Georgia) that had (and has) no system of legal specialization. So the very existence of the system was a direct challenge to me. I’m a competitive guy and when you put a challenge in front of me I may well grab it. I also thought I’d be the local chief of a satellite office of a big law firm that merged with a larger out-of-state firm shortly after I arrived. I liked Asheboro, but I realized I better make a mark quickly if I wanted to “get the word out” and stay. Going for a certification seemed like the right thing to do.
Q: You are currently serving as vice-chair on the Board of Legal Specialization. What do you like best about serving on the board? What challenges have you encountered in serving on the board?
I can’t believe that I have ended up on the Board of Legal Specialization! For years I was very involved in elder law matters. I served two tours as Bar Association section chair, on various committees, and the like. I have been involved in various elder law organizations nationally. It was all elder law. On the board, I have had an opportunity to get acquainted with different specialists. I have cast votes affecting other specialties. I have served on committees affecting the course of specialization over many areas. It’s good to be reminded that I am a lawyer first, an elder law attorney second. I feel most privileged to have been given the opportunity of making friends from around the state who are truly “special” lawyers and judges.
My biggest challenge? Walking into a meeting and getting out of my elder law skin! I have to remind myself that I am serving the interests of the public and the bar in everything from criminal law to trademark law.
Q: What piece of advice would you give lawyers who are interested in pursuing certification?
Do it! And start early. If you are a younger attorney who thinks you might be interested, take a look at the subject matter covered by your exam and make a conscious effort to take cases involving a variety of issues. Work on being...well...a specialist.
Q: What would you tell someone who is intimidated by the thought of sitting for a certification exam?
Tell yourself, “I can do this thing!” You’re smart. You passed the bar exam. Look at what you need to cover, chop it up into segments, identify where you are weakest, and then attack it. But start where you’re weakest.
Find a certified specialist/mentor to help you through it. The best would be a friend who is not afraid to hold your feet to the fire. A scholarly marine drill instructor who happens to be a specialist in your area might be good if you can’t provide that internal motivation to study an arcane corner of the specialty four or five months before the exam.
Commit to the effort. It won’t be easy. You won’t be able to knock this off with a weekend of “looking things over.” But you can do it if you make the effort. If it was too easy, it wouldn’t be special. But clearing that hurdle can be the happiest day since you passed the bar. Maybe happier.
Q: How would you explain the benefits of specialization to someone who says, “I practice in a small town; specialization is for lawyers in large law firms in large cities”?
Well, I’ve done both. I practiced with one of the world’s biggest firms in Atlanta, and one of the world’s smallest firms in Asheboro. In the big firm, it may be one of those tickets you need to get punched to make partner. In the small town, it can be the one thing that sets you apart, gets the public to realize what you do, and perhaps even enables you to get on the path to building a regional practice. It is comforting for clients to know they are getting the same level of expertise “right at home” that they might otherwise have to go to the Big City to access.
Q: What are the hot topics in elder law right now?
Asset protection, trusts and trust taxation, and elder financial abuse.
Q: How does certification benefit the public?
Selecting an attorney is stressful. There are two general elements: competence and personal chemistry. There are plenty of good noncertified attorneys out there, but certification is an objective “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval. That’s half the battle for the client.
Q: How has specialization changed since you became a specialist?
It’s becoming even more specialized. We’ve added several specializations since I came on the board. It’s becoming more like medicine in that it is tougher for someone to be a good general practitioner. There is simply too much there.
Q: Finish this sentence: “I’m excited about the future of legal specialization because…”
It is becoming more the norm than the exception.
Q: Name the top three benefits you’ve experienced as a result of becoming a specialist.
Great colleagues, an enriched practice, a sense of accomplishment.
Q: You have always been a strong advocate for elder law continuing legal education and regularly travel to present on elder law topics. What CLE presentations are you currently working on?
I often present on CLE topics locally and
in North Carolina. I have also started an educational resource for elder law attorneys and special needs law attorneys tackling the intricacies of public benefits, trusts, and trust taxation called “TrustChimp.” I love getting around the country and teaching (and demystifying) trust and trust taxation issues for other attorneys struggling to get a handle on those topics.
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Since my son went off to App State, those things have changed a bit. Cook. Write. In fact, I write a regular column for the local English language (as opposed to legalese) daily on a variety of topics. I try to leaven it with a bit of humor. That’s not hard to do these days.
For more information about becoming a board certified specialist, please visit nclawspecialists.gov or call our office at 919-828-4620.