Don't Be A Prisoner To Certification
Connecticut Law Tribune - January 15, 2007
On Thursday, Jan. 18, the New Haven County Bar Association is holding a "Lunch 'n Learn" open meeting, at 12:30 p.m. at the Graduate Club, to discuss the Connecticut Bar Association's proposed residential real estate certification program.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend, not that I was invited. In June of 2006, I wrote a column blasting the CBA Real Property Section for attempting to create a specialization certification status for the state's real estate bar. It set off a firestorm of responses, with most of them applauding my speaking out against this push. Those comments came primarily from solos who felt their business and professional growth options would be severely limited by such a program, even if it's not mandatory.
At least some associates at large firms also felt, if they were forced by their employers to become certified, it would hamper any career changes they might make because they would be labeled as real estate specialists.
However, I would like to clarify my past statements on real estate certification. Any judicially sanctioned program or peer-sponsored review board that seeks to limit — and it does, in fact, limit — an attorney's right to use his or her professional license is not acceptable to me and should not be acceptable to other members of the bar, either.
Some may truly believe that certification in a particular area of law will help them gain business by elevating their "authority" status beyond other non-specializing attorneys. They will take all the expensive courses and exams, pay their dues, overweight their practice in that area of specialty and then be acknowledged for doing so by their peers, all in the name of giving themselves a competitive edge that is being thinly disguised as "protecting the public." They need to learn, however, that a house with every imaginable alarm system to keep intruders out also makes its inhabitants a prisoner in their own home.
Follow the money. Who profits from this "specialization certification?" Who will attorneys be making their checks out to in order to continue handling residential real estate closings, something they have already been doing without restriction?
How lawyers practice, how they grow their practices should be totally up to them without any limitations other than the basic rules of professional conduct. They've passed the bar. They're already entitled to practice in any area of law they choose to practice in. If they need or want to shift gears and focus on new areas, they should be able to do so without suffering professionally or financially.
Specialization certification, especially in something as basic as residential real estate, primarily benefits those who are already at, or on their way to, the top of their game and will profit from these programs. It has nothing to do with protecting the public. If it did, anyone should be able to sit for the certification exam. If they pass, then the public is protected by a presentation of an additional skill set.
Instead, certification has everything to do with closing the palace doors on the great unwashed masses of lawyers looking to raid what remains in the royal coffers.
In the news on Jan 2 was the following: "Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that housing-related industries — construction, furniture manufacturing and sales, real estate agents, mortgage brokers — will see more than 1 million jobs evaporate over the next two years because of the housing slowdown after five boom years for sales."
Is it really difficult to envision lawyers who perform residential real estate closings and face a threat of losing their livelihoods as a result of this downward trend leading the parade on "specialization certification?" This push has nothing to do with consumer protection. It has everything to do with self-preservation.
Anyone who has ever shopped for a lawyer knows that consumers can get information about who is competent with a little research. The real acknowledgment that an attorney is a respected authority in his or her field is in the court of public opinion. And that honor is bestowed upon lawyers with increased business through word-of-mouth by satisfied clients and through referrals from their professional colleagues.
Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.