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I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jennifer Adams and her father, Rayford (Trip) Adams III, both board certified specialists in Greensboro. Trip graduated from Davidson College and Wake Forest Law School and Jennifer, following in his footsteps, did the same 22 years later. Trip gained his certification in both business and consumer bankruptcy law in 1987, and Jennifer attained her board certification this year in the same specialty areas. Here are some of their comments about the specialization program and the impact it has had on their careers.

Q: Why did you pursue certification?

Trip: I was in the first group to sit for the specialization exam in 1987. I thought that the certification idea and process made great sense. I had a few colleagues who were on the initial Specialization Committee who encouraged me as well.

Jennifer: I have a lot of colleagues, including Trip, who are certified and told me that I must get certified when I was eligible. For me, it was the next logical step in my career. I was active in the bankruptcy section and the American Bankruptcy Institute, taking continuing legal education courses in bankruptcy, and writing articles for the section newsletter. Gaining the certification was the next step in advancing my career.

Q: Jennifer, I noticed that you call your father "Trip." How is it working in a father/daughter practice?

Jennifer: I love working with my father. I've learned to separate our professional relationship from our family one as well. At work, I refer to him as Trip and at family get-togethers, I still call him dad. It took a couple of years for that to feel natural, but now it does.

I'm also really glad that I did go away for two years to clerk at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. It allows me to really appreciate this situation for what it is now. When Trip says that I did a good job on something, or that I need to make some changes, I can appreciate that the compliments are coming from an attorney that I respect. His comments are meaningful to me on two levels. I love learning from him and I love doing the same thing, but also doing things a bit differently.

Trip: It has been great to have another specialist as a partner. I have learned things from Jenny, particularly since she handles consumer as well as business bankruptcy cases. She has developed a nice practice and I consider her to be the brains of the outfit!

Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice?

Trip: It has been very helpful to be a part of the group of bankruptcy specialists. By definition, we are all committed to this practice area and devote a significant portion of our practices to bankruptcy. We have a presence in the bankruptcy bar and we know that each of us is tuned in to what's happening in the practice area.

Jennifer: One of the most important reasons that I became a specialist was for the camaraderie of other attorneys who are already certified. I get a lot of referrals from other specialists as well as creditors' attorneys who are against me in some cases. We also work with business attorneys who know that, as specialists, we will help their clients with their bankruptcy issues only. There's no concern that we would try to provide other services or that the client may not come back. We provide very specialized services to our clients.

Q: Who are your best referral sources?

Trip: Besides other bankruptcy attorneys, or business and family attorneys, accountants are also a good source of referrals to our office. I speak periodically to groups of certified public accountants and they are often the first to know that their clients are in trouble.

Jennifer: I've been active the past few years in the bankruptcy section council of the NC Bar Association, speaking at continuing legal education programs, and have received many calls from other lawyers seeking assistance who attended those seminars. Our practice has gained a reputation for handling difficult or quirky bankruptcy cases, both consumer and business.

Q: How does your certification benefit your clients?

Jennifer: The litigation and collections attorneys in this area know that we are bankruptcy specialists, and beyond that that we are experienced in handling cases through to their conclusion, including negotiation and litigation. In many cases, this gives the attorney on the other side some incentive to negotiate. Letting creditors know that they are working with a board certified bankruptcy attorney can also be an effective motivation for a full exploration into ways to resolve the situation.

Trip: We are good at what we do in the practice. Board certification is a reflection of our experience in this practice area and the way we handle our cases.

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

Jennifer: The bankruptcy code in general continues to be a hot topic. As bankruptcy law is a federal practice, we are constantly looking at other jurisdictions for changes in application or interpretation. In addition, national and political interests are seeking changes, particularly in Chapter 13 cases, to assist homeowners.

Trip: The major revisions to the bankruptcy code are three years old and we are now starting to see decisions on appeals and meaningful case law. It's critical to keep up with the changes to serve clients well.

Q: Is certification important in your practice area?

Jennifer: When we are facing another board certified specialist in court or even in pre-trial negotiations, we can count on things running smoothly. We know that they understand the issues involved as well as the limitations we face, and that we may be able to come to an agreement that avoids filing for bankruptcy.

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

Trip: Board certification benefits both directly. The specialization program and process work well to the extent that when you look in the directory you see the names of the top lawyers in that practice area, not names that you don't recognize. Clients who use the directory or website to select a lawyer will find one who does not dabble in the practice area; rather, they will find a lawyer who has devoted him/herself fully. That decision to concentrate your practice helps raise the competence level of the bar as a whole.

Q: How has your certification been a part of shaping your legal career?

Jennifer: I chose to become a board certified specialist in both consumer and business bankruptcy law because I really do enjoy this work. I feel good about my work with clients. My goal, every day, is to help my clients go home feeling and sleeping better, to help them take control of the situation and start to see improvement. I also really enjoy my involvement in this practice area. I have a fantastic group of colleagues who get together regularly to share ideas and help each other. Growing up with my father as a lawyer, I never understood lawyer jokes. My experience has been that the bankruptcy bar is very cordial, professional, and dedicated. I am proud to be a part of it.

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

Trip: I am well aware that many lawyers leave the bar exam saying that they'll never take another exam, as I did. But this is an exam in your practice area and if you have the experience, the exam is a lot less intimidating than you might think. It's a test that covers things you see every day.

I have always been a big fan of the specialization program, for what it does for the public and especially for the bar. I encourage lawyers to seek the specialist designation and to be involved in a program that provides real benefits, even in intangible ways.

For more information on the State Bar's specialization program, please visit us on the web at