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Denise Mullen, the new assistant director of Specialization, recently surveyed a few of the Certified Specialists about their initial desire to pursue specialization, any benefit that certification has brought to their careers, and what tips they might have for others considering the pursuit of this credential. Following are the answers that one specialist provided. Margaret S. Burnham, a Certified Specialist in Real Property: Business, Commercial, and Industrial Transactions since 1997, currently practices at Adams, Kleemeier, Hagan, Hannah & Fouts in Greensboro, NC.

1. Why did you pursue certification?

My partner, Jay DeVaney, was already certified in the same specialty. Annually he would tout the benefits and encourage (“brow beat”) me to take the exam. It got to the point that I ran out of excuses! I certainly did not want Jay to think I was afraid to take the exam!

2. How did you prepare for the examination?

I did a lot of “refresher” work. My concern was that flunking the exam would be a poor reflection on me, so I went overboard. I bought a new two-volume set of Websters and went through it cover to cover. At some point, I had to forego the voluminous footnotes or I would never have finished before the exam. I read a lot of recent cases and all case summaries in the NCBA Real Property Section newsletters. I also reviewed statutes that I expected to be the subject of exam questions. It helped me to find other lawyers taking the same exam to have a study group (although we spent most of our time guessing what the questions would be).

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

It forced me to undertake a refresher course on black letter law. It also gave me a tremendous sense of satisfaction after I passed.

4. Has certification been helpful to your practice?

Existing clients comment on the certification when they see it on my wall. I’m not sure I can attribute a new client to my having been certified. It is more of an intangible benefit.

5. What do your clients say about your certification?

They love it. It gives clients “bragging rights.”

6. Who are your best referral sources?

Existing clients and other lawyers.

7. How does your certification benefit your clients?

My guess is that it gives clients a level of comfort that they got to the right kind of lawyer to handle their matters.

8. Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?

There are many “hot topics” affecting real property generally such as the FTC inquiry into certain ethics opinions limiting what “nonlawyers” can do without direct supervision by a lawyer. There are also issues about a new mortgage impairment insurance product that affects the traditional North Carolina balance between lawyers rendering title opinions and title companies issuing title policies. “Synthetic leases” have gotten a lot of press lately due to Enron.

9. How do you stay current in your field?

-- Lawyers Weekly

-- The Business Journal (Triad edition)

-- NCBA Section newsletter and section listserve

10. Is certification important in your practice area? How?

Yes. More and more lawyers are finding that it is worth the time to take the exam. Eventually, I believe it could become an expectation of sophisticated clients.

11. How does specialization benefit the public? The profession?

It is another tool to help get consumers to a lawyer with the right kind of experience.

12. How do you see the future of specialization?

It depends upon “buy in” from other attorneys. It will mean more if there are specialization exams for all fields and if more lawyers endorse the program by taking the exam. There is definitely a “fear factor.” I was concerned what people would think if I took the exam and did not pass. It seemed to me that there was a “presumption” that you were competent if you passed the Bar exam that would be lost if you later took a voluntary exam and flunked. That is why I studied so much!

13. What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?

Don’t be afraid!

Don’t be paranoid!

Do take it seriously and study. You’d be surprised how much you’ve forgotten!

For more information about the certification programs please visit our website at or contact Denise Mullen at 919-828-4620 x255. Applications for the 2002 exam will be accepted until June 28, 2002. The exams will be held on November 6-7, 2002, in Raleigh.