Denise Mullen, the Assistant Director of Legal Specialization at the North Carolina State Bar, recently sat down with Bill Janvier, a certified legal specialist in business and consumer bankruptcy, to ask him about spe cialization and the impact it has had on his career. Bill is a partner at Everett, Gaskins, Hancock and Stevens, LLP, in Raleigh. Here are a few of his answers.
Q: Why did you pursue certification?
I am a member of the Bar Association and we have a relatively small Bankruptcy Bar. We’re very collegial and work together well. When I looked around at my colleagues, most of the ones that I admired and respected were already certified. I thought certification was a good credential, an easy way to show the world that you know what you’re doing.
Q: How did you prepare for the examination?
Mostly I studied the sections of the bankruptcy code that don’t come into play in my practice much—the family farmer provisions. I thought that most of the remaining questions should seem familiar since I practice in Raleigh and deal with bankruptcy every day. I also reviewed the rest of the code before the exam.
Q: Was the certification process (exam, references, application) valuable to you in any way?
In my review of the bankruptcy code, I reviewed a number of provisions that simply don’t apply very often. Its good to know those provisions exist for those uncommon instances when they might be useful.
Q: How does certification benefit your clients?
I suppose it gives my clients peace of mind; they know that they’re dealing with someone who doesn’t just dabble in this area of law. It also may help during negotiations with other parties. When they see the certification on my letterhead, it may give credibility to my work and help further the negotiations. Parties understand that in an insolvency situation, it is to everyone’s benefit to work things out as much as possible.
Q: What do your clients say about your certification?
I’ve had a number of clients mention my certification in the initial interview. I’ve had people use it as kind of an ice-breaker and say that they saw or read that I’m a certified specialist in bankruptcy law. It seems to make it easier for them to bring up why they’ve come to see me.
Q: Who are your best referral sources?
Other lawyers. More than one-half of my referrals come from other bankruptcy lawyers. Business bankruptcies often involve a large number of parties needing representation, and bankruptcy lawyers are always referring cases to each other due to conflicts. With the current economy, there’s no shortage of work.
Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice? In what ways?
I think it has been helpful. I’ve had several people, business clients in particular, mention my certification. Some clients have found me by doing an internet search for bankruptcy specialists. My certification is also printed on my letterhead and I think that gives people to whom I write (on behalf of a client) comfort. They know that I have a pretty good working knowledge of bankruptcy issues.
Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?
The pending bankruptcy legislation. It’s been close to passing for several years now, but may finally be close to actually happening. If it passes it will bring significant changes to the practice of bankruptcy law. The legislation seems to have been the main topic planned for nearly every bankruptcy CLE in the past couple of years.
Q: How do you stay current in your field?
By taking CLE’s every year, attending the Eastern Bankruptcy Institute, the Bar Association Annual Bankruptcy Conference, reading bankruptcy newsletters, and listserves. Also the bankruptcy section of the Bar Association publishes a quarterly newsletter, which is very useful.
Q: Is certification important in your practice area?
It is becoming more important. The bad economy seems to have led more attorneys to dabble in bankruptcy law. Certification is an easy way for consumers to find attorneys whose primary practice is bankruptcy.
Q: How do you see the future of specialization?
I see it growing as more attorneys recognize the value of attaining certification and as the State Bar offers more certification areas.
Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?
I would advise them to look at the benefits of specialization. If you practice in the area of law the majority of the time, the exam is not that difficult. Most of the questions are ones that you’ll have encountered routinely in your practice.
For more information about the certification programs please visit our website at www.nclawspecialists.org or contact Denise Mullen at 919.828.4620 x255. Applications are accepted every year during May and June. Exams are held during the first week of November.