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I recently had an opportunity to talk with Joseph G. Maddrey, a board-certified specialist from Eden. Joe graduated from Wake Forest University with a degree in history and political science. He received his JD from Wake Forest Law School as well. Joe achieved his board certification in residential real property law in 1991. The following are some of his comments about the specialization program and the impact it has had on his career, as well as his expectations for the future.

Q: Why did you pursue certification?

In the early 1990s, real property law was my primary focus and I wanted the public to know that. I wanted to be highly prepared to represent my clients and I made a concerted effort to get better in that one area.

Q: How did you prepare for the examination?

I did so very easily, in fact. I read Webster's Real Estate Law, a two-volume treatise, which is the bible of real property law. I also read real estate cases that had been decided in the appellate courts for the two previous years. I felt lucky when one of those cases showed up in an exam question!

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

The exam was the most valuable. As most exams do, it made me aware of the areas of real property law that I still had not learned to the level I should have or thought that I had. After the exam I could tell that I still had a few areas to work on.

Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice?

I find the additional requirements for continuing legal education to be most helpful in keeping me current with real property issues. I look for good courses and generally learn a lot.

Q: Who are your best referral sources?

I get quite a few referrals from realtors and mortgage brokers. Some realtors have a policy, if asked, of recommending two to three lawyers to do a closing, but often they will point out that only one has been designated a specialist by the NC State Bar.

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

Needless to say, real property law is not generally known as a "hot topic" area of the law, but upcoming RESPA changes and recent legislative changes to the foreclosure and partition statutes are areas that real property attorneys are getting excited or concerned about.

Q: Is certification important in your practice area?

One important aspect of real property law is that closings, title certification, deeds, deeds of trust, easement, etc. never go away. They are a permanent record for the world to see, recorded in the register of deeds or clerks office. For example, any act performed four years ago regarding real property can hold the same legal significance today. Since the educational requirements of certification require a constant review of the basic laws and procedures of real property, it helps to minimize mistakes. Just when you think you know a subject, that is when you can make a mistake. Constant review of the law in the area of your practice is the best way to serve your client and yourself and certification helps you achieve this. Certification helps to give you a comfort level of confidence about the laws of your specialty.

Q: Is certification important in your region?

Rockingham County is a non-urban county and, as such, we have a wide range of real property issues, such as adverse possession, easements, partition of farm lands, cartway proceedings to cut timber, lappage, etc. I have to be knowledgeable of the law on all these subjects and find that my annual CLE courses eventually cover all these subjects. This assists me as I advise clients and handle their legal proceedings.

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

The public benefits from specialization because when a client uses the legal services of a specialist, he or she gets the benefit of an attorney who has been proven knowledgeable by the NC State Bar in that area of the law. The profession benefits from specialization because, like the medical profession, being designated as a specialist raises the standard of competence and ability in the practice of law.

Q: Have you had a recent case or situation where your specialization came in handy?

I serve as a North Carolina State Bar Councilor from the 17A Judicial District and serve on the Ethics Committee as well. Over the last three to four years the Ethics Committee has had to determine several real property ethical issues. I was appointed to the subcommittees that studied these issues to make recommendations to the full Ethics Committee. I feel that my specialty certification in real property law enabled me to have an in-depth understanding of the issues and hopefully assist the Ethics Committee in arriving at the proper decisions.

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

The time and effort needed to pursue certification is worth it. I realize that sitting for the exam is the reason most attorneys choose not to pursue board certification, but I would suggest that the time needed to prepare for the exam is the same as preparing for an important case or file. You set aside a block of time with everything in front of you and review and analyze it until you feel you are prepared. It does not take as long as you think to get prepared. The first and most important thing you have to do is make a determination in your mind that you want the specialty certification. The rest will fall into place. It gives you a sense of pride and a feeling of confidence that you are good in your area of the law and that both your profession and the public recognize it.

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