George Laughrun II
I recently had an opportunity to talk with George Laughrun II, a board certified specialist practicing in Charlotte. George received his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. Following graduation, he served as an assistant district attorney in Charlotte for two years before moving into private practice. George focused his practice on criminal defense work, becoming a board certified specialist in state and federal criminal law in 1991. George was among the first in the state to achieve that distinction. He now practices at Goodman, Carr, Laughrun, Levine, Murray and Green, PA, in Charlotte. Following are some of his comments about the specialization program and the impact it has had on his career.
Q: Why did you pursue certification?
I wanted to be able to show clients that I was committed to this practice area. It was also nice to be able to add the certification to my letterhead. I took the exam in 1991, the first year that the specialty certification was offered. I was in a group of about six or seven lawyers that got together regularly to discuss cases and we all took the exam together. It was a daunting task at the time and we were all glad to have received passing scores!
Q: How did you prepare for the examination?
I read Chapter 15A, the criminal procedure act, as well as Chapter 14, the crime section in the General Statutes. I studied with the group I mentioned earlier and we really tried to figure out what knowledge sets apart a criminal law specialist from someone who handles these cases only occasionally. We knew that the exam wasn't designed to trick us, but we were looking for the less obvious details that really show a depth of knowledge.
Q: Was the certification process valuable to you in any way?
The process was valuable in that I truly didn't realize how many jury trials I had under my belt until I had to compile that information for the application. Now I keep a running list so that the information is easy to access for the recertification applications that are due every five years. The exam itself, in 1991, felt very much like the 1980 bar exam to me—it was even held in the same location at that time.
Q: How has certification been helpful to your practice?
As a criminal law specialist who handles a large percentage of DWI cases, I have chosen not to advertise through mailings or phone book listings. My firm does have a website and my letterhead highlights my board certification. I consider the certification to be a subtle form of advertising that helps generate clients at a pretty consistent rate. Clients know that this is my practice area—I'm not drafting wills or performing real estate closings, I am handling challenging criminal cases on a daily basis. The certification makes that easier for clients and potential clients to understand.
Q: What do your clients say about your certification?
Some clients will ask, early on, how much experience I have and I'm able to show them my original specialty certificate, framed and hanging on the wall. I explain that I applied for and received this designation that only about five percent of lawyers have.
Q: How does your certification benefit your clients?
The certification requirements ensure that I keep up-to-date on changes in criminal law. As a specialist, I have to get my continuing legal education (CLE) credits in criminal law courses. I don't take CLE courses just to get a trip to the beach—I take courses that are relevant to my practice and I use that knowledge to benefit my practice as well as my clients.
Q: Is certification important in your practice area?
It is. There are a lot of good lawyers who are not certified, but I think that achieving the designation sends a message to clients, judges, and other lawyers that you are serious about your work and about maintaining strong qualifications. I think it's similar to receiving the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval." The North Carolina State Bar has given that stamp of approval to your work and that's something that the public can count on.
My daughter took the bar exam last year and while she was studying I took a few of her practice exams and didn't do well! That's ok, I know I'm not a jack-of-all-trades at this point. I have narrowed my focus and that increases the depth of my knowledge and reduces the chance for mistakes.
Q: How does specialization benefit the public?
Specialization helps the public by identifying lawyers who have met multiple criteria, including work experience, a practice-specific examination, and a review by their peers as well as by the elite group of specialists who make up the committees. In order to receive and maintain board certification, the lawyer must also have high ethical standards and avoid disciplinary problems with the Bar. Providing that information to the public is very helpful.
Q: How do you see the future of specialization?
I already use the Directory of Board Certified Legal Specialists to find other specialists when I need to refer cases, particularly in very complicated situations that involve other practice areas like immigration. It is very hard to be a general practitioner these days. I could envision a future where virtually every practice area has specialists. I think currently employment law and intellectual property law are two very specialized areas that might be appropriate for board certification.
For more information on the State Bar's specialization program, please visit us on the web at www.nclawspecialists.gov.