Renny Deese, a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law and State Bar Councilor for the 12th Judicial District, recently sat down with Denise Mullen, assistant director of specialization, to talk about the impact specialization has had on his career. Deese received his law degree from Wake Forest School of Law in 1971. He is a partner at Reid, Lewis, Deese, Nance and Person, LLP, in Fayetteville. Here are a few of his comments.
Q: Why did you pursue certification?
To better serve my clients. I was in the charter class to take the family law specialty exam, because I thought it would give my clients more confidence.
Q: How did you prepare for the examination?
Because it was the first exam, there wasn’t a lot of study assistance at that time. I looked at CLE materials and slip opinions. I felt that practicing family law every day should help me answer the basic questions, so I focused quite a bit of my study time on reviewing current and cutting edge issues.
Q: Was the certification process (exam, references, application) valuable to you in any way?
Yes it was. It compelled me to look at current issues in family law. It was a good refresher process. It was also rewarding to have my peers serve as references through the application process.
Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice? In what ways?
Yes, it has. The practice of law is so complicated these days, particularly in family law. I actually consider it a luxury to be able to concentrate in an area of law that I enjoy. Family law is what I do. It takes me less time to complete a task because I know this area of the law. I get a lot of personal satisfaction from seeing my clients through difficult times. In family law, there are not many winners and it’s nice when clients are grateful for your assistance in taking them through the process. There are many highs and lows in a family dissolution, you learn to be sensitive to the client’s emotional needs. Empathy is important, and sharing experiences with other specialists provides a support resource that often is useful.
Q: What do your clients say about your certification?
Some ask if I’m board certified. Most consumers are so informed today, they use the internet to locate an attorney who concentrates in a particular area. That choice is reinforced when they find out that I’m a board certified specialist. I typically explain what that means and the process that I went through to become certified. It gives the clients more security and I think they tend to be more receptive to my advice.
Q: What are your best referral sources?
Typically word of mouth: former clients referring new clients. However, I see more and more referrals coming from other lawyers. They know they can send their client to me for a family law issue with no fear of my stealing the client!
Q: How does your certification benefit your clients?
It enables me to concentrate my time in this practice area. It takes me less time to answer questions, and we all know that in law, time is money.
Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?
There are quite a few hot topics currently. One is custody, particularly when one parent wants to relocate. I practice in Fayetteville and deal with a lot of military issues, including the impact of relocation on joint custody. Another hot issue would be in equitable distribution. Can we modify an equitable distribution order; is it subject to change after entry? In alimony cases, should there be guidelines?
As a specialist, by virtue of limiting my practice area, I encounter issues from different perspectives more often. I represent spouses where we touch on all aspects of these issues regularly. Also, as a specialist, one tends to have more complex cases, and all of this experience, of course, helps the clients.
Q: How do you stay current in your field?
Mainly through CLE. There are enhanced CLE requirements for certified specialists and family law specialists host a CLE seminar annually. It is well attended and well received. On a monthly basis, I review new case law, and read case summaries in Lawyer’s Weekly regularly.
Q: Is certification important in your practice area? How?
It is. Family law includes such a wide range of cases and there are many lawyers to choose from. Certification demonstrates to clients and potential clients that you have devoted your practice and taken the time to become proficient in this one area. Some lawyers even limit their practice area within family law; I haven’t had the occasion to do so. I help with whatever problems there are, and touch on issues relating to children, spouses, and property, regularly.
Q: Is certification important in your region? How?
I think it is. It reflects to the general public and other attorneys that I’m committed to what I’m doing. It is a statement of election, to intentionally limit my practice and become more proficient in an area of the law. In southeast North Carolina, it helps. Potential clients can see that I’ve chosen my field and that I have the necessary passion for the practice of family law.
Q: How does specialization benefit the public? The profession?
It encourages and allows lawyers to stay current in their fields and to become well-versed and knowledgeable. When peers consider someone to refer clients to, they can count on a specialist being able to deliver safe and effective service to a client. It helps lawyers to select co-counsel and assists clients with economic constraints by getting them to someone who can quickly and concisely handle their problems. It has allowed me to represent clients across the globe and interact with their local lawyers wherever they happen to be.
Q: Is there a recent case you’ve had where your specialization came in handy?
I practice mainly in eastern North Carolina and would say that a board certified specialist generally hopes that a judge recognizes the degree of concentration and experience in his/her area of the law. It doesn’t persuade a judge to lean in my favor, but it does keep me from having to prove myself time and again. I think judges tend to assume a level of ability and experience with board certification.
Q: How do you see the future of specialization?
I see specialization being offered in more and more areas, and more refinements within those areas over time.
Q: In what other areas would you like to see certification offered?
I think it could include anything from medical malpractice to traffic violations.
Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?
I have always been a strong proponent of specialization. I see it as a trend of the future. It offers a means by which a lawyer can establish an area in which he/she desires to practice. It provides professional recognition without self-laudatory advertisement. It gives the specialist other specialists to call on when assistance is needed. Finally, it is generally more rewarding to concentrate in an area that you like.
For more information about the certification programs, please visit our website at www.nclawspecialists.org or contact Denise Mullen at 919-828-4620 x255. Applications are accepted in May and June each year. Exams are held during the first week of November.