I recently had an opportunity to talk with Anand Ramaswamy, a board certified specialist practicing in Greensboro. Anand grew up in Pennsylvania, moving to North Carolina when he joined the army, enlisting in the 82nd Airborne. He attended college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and subsequently received his law degree from UNC - Chapel Hill. Following graduation, he practiced real property law for about a year before becoming an assistant district attorney. He worked in Alamance, Rockingham, Orange, and Chatham Counties until 2007, when he joined the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District. He became a board certified specialist in state and federal criminal law in 2009. Following are some of Anand’s comments about the specialization program and the impact he anticipates on his career.
Q: Why did you pursue certification?
I wanted to challenge myself and I also wanted to represent the US Attorney’s Office on the list of board certified specialists. Many of the defense attorneys that I see as opposing counsel on a regular basis were already board certified and I wanted to establish that level of accomplishment for myself as well. I also knew that I had a window of time to rely on my knowledge of state law as I shifted my focus to federal law with my current position.
Q: How did you prepare for the examination?
I reviewed the topic list online and prepared my own notes and study guide from that. I read the Rules of Evidence and memorized the rules pertaining to criminal law. The state and federal rules are similar, except for sentencing, so I focused on reviewing the sentencing guidelines as well.
Q: Was the certification process valuable to you in any way?
The process was actually quite valuable. Since I was looking forward to the challenge aspect, I really used the process to force myself to improve. I compare it to running a marathon—you set a goal and work each day to get there. You have to prepare, you can’t just go run 26 miles one day. The preparation is an important part of the process.
Q: How do you envision certification being helpful to your work?
Since I learned the material to the point of memorization, I am less likely to have to search for reference material at this point. As a government attorney, there’s not an economic benefit for me, and I didn’t pursue this goal for that reason. But it is helpful to see my agency represented on the list of board certified specialists. I truly believe that we should be as willing to meet that standard as the lawyers we see on the defense side.
Q: What have your clients, staff, and colleagues said about your certification?
I have the certificate in my office, but didn’t really tell many people about it before the exam. Other specialists, including the defense lawyers I mentioned before, have seen it and been very welcoming and supportive.
Q: How do you think your certification will benefit your clients?
I have one client, the US government, and do see that my increased knowledge will benefit that client. Beyond that, I think that my certification will also benefit the public, the taxpayers that pay my salary. I have demonstrated that I am willing to hold myself to a higher standard in my practice area.
Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?
The crack disparity laws that have recently changed the ratio of crack cocaine to powder are providing a lot of challenging issues. There’s not much guidance at this point on how to apply the law and whether or not the guidelines are to be applied retroactively. That’s not stated, so the assumption is no. We are dealing with many people arrested before the law changed but sentenced after who are waiting for some clearer standards.
The federal sentencing guidelines are complex, to say the least. As I studied for the exam I realized the importance of memorizing that entire scheme. I’m glad I had that opportunity and the knowledge has been useful in practice.
Q: How do you stay current in your field?
I am lucky to have access to the best training and continuing legal education (CLE) in the country. There’s a facility on the University of South Carolina’s campus where we attend CLE programs offered to all Department of Justice lawyers throughout the country. I recently attended an appellate advocacy course taught by federal appellate judges that was amazing.
Q: Is certification important in your practice area?
The certification program is important to me and important to those in need of an attorney. I appreciate the role of the general practitioner, but much like medicine, there are many situations in which you need a specialist that you can easily identify and rely on for the complicated nature of your situation. At this level, a person’s liberty is at stake. In the federal system, the judge is not going to “help” a lawyer who doesn’t know what he’s doing. On both sides, it’s imperative that the lawyers are well beyond competent.
Q: How do you see the future of specialization?
I think specializing and attaining board certification are going to be more commonplace. I initially learned about the program by receiving a mailing. It may not have crossed my mind otherwise, but I learned about the program and could see how it would fit into my long-term career plans. I see a distinctly upward trend and think it will continue to grow.
Q: Are there other areas that you think certification could be offered?
I’ve seen some information about the possibility of juvenile defense law and do think that could be a good fit. We handle our own appeals at the federal level, but I do support the proposed specialty in appellate law as well.
Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?
To my colleagues in public service: prosecutors and public defenders statewide, consider becoming a specialist. Consider not what it can do for you, but rather what it says about your commitment to your work.
For more information on the State Bar's specialization program, please visit us on the web at www.nclawspecialists.gov.