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22,3 BurtonLaura Burton knew the importance of becoming board certified early in her career. She was certified in immigration law in 2003 and soon became a strong advocate for specialization not only in immigration law, but also in other areas of specialty certification. She began by serving on the Immigration Law Specialty Committee in 2004, and was appointed chair of the committee in 2009. She remained chair until her term expired in 2011.

Additionally, Burton was appointed to the Board of Legal Specialization in 2010 and served as chair of the board from July 2016 to July 2017.

A testament to Burton’s dedication to the specialization program is the fact that she rarely missed a board meeting despite a life-changing accident in 2015. Hospitalization, several surgeries, and physical therapy were required after she was struck by a driver when crossing the street near her office in Greensboro.

Burton served as chair of the specialization board during some very exciting milestones. Under her leadership, the program reached 1,000 specialists, a goal set by Jim Angell, her predecessor as chair; specialization exams began to be administered digitally through Examsoft Software; and new specialties in utilities law and privacy and information security law were created.

Q: What originally motivated you to become a specialist?

When I spoke with other attorneys in the field, I realized that becoming a specialist would both help my practice, and allow me to more easily stay on top of the changes in the field. I have found this to be true over the past 14 years.

Q: How would you explain the benefits of specialization to someone who says “I’ve been practicing for many years in my area of practice, why do I need to get certified now? Certification is for lawyers who are only a few years out of law school.”?

Certification is not just for lawyers who are a few years out of school. In fact, attorneys who have been practicing for a number of years tend to be better prepared to go through the certification process and to take the exam. Certification demonstrates a lawyer’s achievements and competence in the specific field, and can help in promoting the lawyer’s practice, regardless of the number of years in practice. It is worth the time and effort (and day-long exam) to pursue certification in your field. Certification is a benefit to lawyers and clients alike.

Q: Are there any hot topics in immigration law right now?

I’m afraid that almost all topics immigration law are “hot” right now, and in that many changes can be expected in the short and long term that could affect clients in all areas of immigration law. Everything from deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), to employment visas, to enforcement is under scrutiny, and it is more important than ever for attorneys involved in the field to be aware of changes coming down the road.

Q: How has certification been helpful to your practice?

Certification is very important in immigration law. It is critical for members of the public to be certain that they are working with a lawyer who is very familiar with the field and does not simply “dabble” in immigration law. As with many areas of law, a little knowledge, without depth of experience, can be more harmful than helpful. Certification allows potential clients to feel comfortable that they are choosing an attorney whose practice fully meets their immigration needs.

While it has not changed the way that I practice law, being a specialist has made me more aware than ever of the importance of staying on top of changes and new issues in the field. I also find that there is a collegial atmosphere amongst the specialists in my field, which will certainly have a positive impact for clients. Certification has made me more confident in my practice, and has attracted clients over the years who have found me through the specialization program.

Q: You just recently finished your term as chair of the Board of Legal Specialization, what will you miss most?

I enjoyed my term as chair. I will miss working closely with professionals and attorneys who share my commitment to the legal specialization program in North Carolina. This dedicated group works hard to promote the program and assist the public. They are also a lot of fun to work with and I will miss the camaraderie.

Q: What was your focus or initiative during your term as chair of the board?

During my term I focused on increasing the number of legal specialists in North Carolina in current specialty practice areas, as well as increasing the number of practice areas eligible for specialty certification.

Q: From your perspective as a board chair, finish this sentence: “I’m excited about the future of legal specialization because...”

…the more specific practice areas that are identified for specialty certification, the better it will be for the public as a whole in North Carolina. 

For more information on immigration law specialists or to learn how to become certified, visit our website at: