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Bruce F. Jobe, a board certified specialist in bankruptcy law, recently talked with Denise Mullen, assistant director of specialization, about the impact specialization has had on his career. Jobe received his undergraduate degree from Wake Forest in 1974, and his law degree from Campbell in 1980. He is a sole practitioner with the Law Offices of Bruce F. Jobe, PA, in Lumberton. Here are a few of his comments.

Q: Why did you pursue certification?

I was practicing with Chris Smith in Lumberton and we started seeing a fair number of bankruptcy clients. I enjoyed that part of the practice and started handling more and more of the cases. I always said that I would never take another exam after passing the bar exam, but I really felt that was where my practice was headed. Other attorneys in the area began to refer bankruptcy cases to me and I could see myself becoming more specialized. I took the certification exam in 1987.

Q: How did you prepare for the examination?

I took about two weeks to study. Another specialist told me that even though you know the codes and sections from your daily practice, you still need to study. I took that advice to heart and devoted three to four hour blocks of time to reviewing bankruptcy law.

Q: Was the certification process (exam, references, application) valuable to you in any way?

I found the study and review most helpful. I was doing mostly consumer work at that point with some involvement in the business side. I took the opportunity to learn about the areas that I didn’t typically see in my practice.

Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice? In what ways?

It certainly helped increase the percentage of my practice that was related to bankruptcy. I became a sole practitioner in 1989 and, in the past six to seven years, have really devoted my work to bankruptcy.

Q: Was that a conscious decision?

I think it was a result rather than a conscious decision. At first about half of my practice was bankruptcy, but I found that I had to back away from other things due to conflicts. I couldn’t handle other cases if I was in bankruptcy court the majority of my time.

Q: What do your clients say about your certification?

Some may not initially know, although I do have it on my business cards. The clients who see my listing in the yellow pages do notice and it does seem to make a difference with them.

Q: What are your best referral sources?

Other attorneys, my yellow pages advertising, and word of mouth from other clients. Most people who come in to my office do not file bankruptcy, rather we focus on alternative solutions to their financial problems. Clients often encourage friends or relatives in similar situations to contact me.

Q: How does your certification benefit your clients?

I think the emphasis on increased continuing legal education hours is a big benefit to clients. Bankruptcy lawyers have good CLE courses to choose from. It’s so important to attend the seminars and interact with other lawyers, clerks, and trustees.

Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?

One current topic that is receiving a lot of attention is the new privacy laws. The new rules restrict the release of information and require new forms to be filed with the court. Also, procedurally, most districts are heading toward mandatory electronic filing. These changes allow clients to follow the progress of their cases through the websites, but that has also opened the door for the information to be accessed by other parties. New regulations require the use of only the last four digits of a social security number and prohibit the publication of children’s names, among other things. These changes help protect clients from identity theft or invasion of privacy.

Q: How do you stay current in your field?

The case research that I do gives me an opportunity to look for updates on specific issues that arise in certain cases. I attend numerous CLE courses and always review the materials from the bankruptcy section of the Bar Association. I also learn from other lawyers and trustees that I work with regularly.

Q: Is certification important in your practice area?

It is important and helpful in the referrals that are directed my way. It helps to influence the way clients view my practice. They are more aware of my dedication to this practice area and the competence of my staff in handling their needs.

Q: Is certification important in your region?

In a small area like Lumberton, I’m the only certified specialist in bankruptcy law. It may be more important to distinguish yourself in the larger, metropolitan areas, but I do appreciate the distinction in the yellow pages and the influence that carries.

Q: How does specialization benefit the public? The profession?

Members of the public need a reliable way to identify an attorney to handle their concerns. To do that, they must see advertising, websites, directories, or get referrals from other attorneys. Specialization allows individuals to see an objective measure that they can use to help guide their decisions. I think the stress on education and studying for the exam is very beneficial to the public. Getting certified and staying certified, devoting time to your practice, and staying active in your field are all critical to providing the best legal representation to your clients.

Q: How do you see the future of specialization?

Specialization will continue whether attorneys become certified or not. The law is just too vast at this point for a lawyer to effectively handle all types of cases. I think that becoming certified has many benefits and that the program will continue to grow. We will see more and more certified specialists in the future.

Q: In what other areas would you like to see certification offered?

Personal injury seems like a good fit for the program.

Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?

Certification can really benefit your practice through your involvement in the process and by what it shows to the public. For younger attorneys, I think it’s a great way to distinguish the work that you do. The exam is certainly something you need to study for, but not too difficult. Certification is important to other attorneys through the state and we should all encourage associates who are pursuing it. Once you are certified, it stays with you forever, until retirement. That’s a very long-term benefit.