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I recently had an opportunity to talk with Buxton (Buck) S. Copeland, a board certified specialist in workers’ compensation law, practicing in Raleigh. Buck attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning an undergraduate degree in 1981, and subsequently received his law degree cum laude from the Campbell University’s Norman A. Wiggins School of Law. Following graduation he served as a law clerk to a United States magistrate judge for two years before joining Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog in 1987. Buck worked in both general liability litigation and workers’ compensation before limiting his practice to the representation of employers, third-party administrators, and carriers in workers’ compensation hearings before the Industrial Commission and in appeals to the full commission, the court of appeals, and the Supreme Court. He became a board certified specialist in workers’ compensation law in 2000, the first year the certification was available. His comments about the specialization program and its impact on his career follow.

Q: Why did you pursue certification?

As a defense attorney, I recognized that becoming a board certified specialist was likely more important for plaintiffs’ attorneys, as I work with more sophisticated clients who typically know what they’re looking for in a lawyer. I pursued certification because it provided a way to distinguish myself from other lawyers who were not board certified. I also wanted to validate, for myself, my knowledge and experience in workers’ compensation law. I thought I was knowledgeable enough to pass the exam but wanted to be certain. I saw the benefits in maximizing a lawyer’s potential in their practice area.

Q: How did you prepare for the examination?

There were several lawyers in my firm who applied at the same time, so we studied together on weekends for a couple of months. We got together on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons, and we each prepared a summary of part of the Workers’ Compensation Act. We researched and presented the information to the others in the group and then led a discussion. I also read through the entire act, which was not something I had done previously. I found it to be tremendously helpful in preparing, and contributed to my overall knowledge of workers’ compensation law.

Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice?

Yes, I became much more knowledgeable after studying for the exam. There were several times while studying that I found out I had assumed something incorrectly. It was really good for me to find those inaccuracies and correct my assumptions.

Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice?

Yes, though I feel like I have seen an even greater benefit to myself personally. The process of preparing for, taking, and passing the exam was really beneficial. Prior to obtaining the certification, I would take some workers’ compensation courses for my continuing legal education (CLE) requirements, but I would often take courses in other topics as well. Now I take all of my CLE in workers’ compensation, and I appreciate the content on a deeper level. I do see myself as a specialist now. I often get calls from other attorneys throughout the state asking my opinion, so I know that colleagues view me as a specialist as well.

Q: Who are your best referral sources?

I tend to get most of my new client referrals from individual adjustors who work with my existing clients. They are from large insurance companies or are third-party administrators for self-insured clients who feel that I have handled similar matters well.

Q: How does certification benefit the profession?

Board certification gives lawyers credibility and that benefits the profession. It’s important in any of the practice areas that offer a specialty certification.

Q: How does certification benefit the public?

For claimants’ attorneys, I think certification is a very important tool that helps members of the public to select an attorney who can provide competent legal services. The certification shows them that an independent third party has looked at this attorney and approved the quality of their work. Similar to the certification that distinguishes a board certified orthopedic surgeon from a non-board certified orthopedic surgeon, it provides clients with the comfort that they are in the good hands of a lawyer who can handle their issues.

Q: What opportunities have you had to provide leadership to the program?

I served on the workers’ compensation specialty committee from April 2006 to April 2014, serving as chair for the last two years of my term. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with the other committee members very much. The committee is typically split with half defense counsel and half plaintiffs’ counsel. The lawyers involved on the committee are truly dedicated to the practice area, intelligent, and willing to share knowledge. The experience of being a committee member was an honor and a real opportunity to learn as well as to lead.

Q: How do you see the future of specialization?

I think that the program will continue to grow and provide a service to the public. I could see additional practice areas being added. Employment law or civil litigation might be a good fit for the program.

For more information on the State Bar’s specialization programs, visit us online at