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January 02, 2007

Does "Specialization Certification" Benefit the Solo

In June of 2006 I wrote a column blasting the Connecticut Bar Association Real Property Section's attempt to pass through "specialization certification" status in residential Real Estate.  It set off a firestorm of responses, mostly applauding my speaking out against this push.  It came primarily from solos who felt their business options would be severely limited. Associates within large firms felt if they were forced to get "specialization certification" it would hamper any moves they might make in the future because they would be "labeled." I have posted the column below. 

However, I would like to clarify my thoughts on "specialization certification" in Residential Real Estate in a few simple sentences.

Any judicially sanctioned program or peer sponsored review board that seeks to limit your right to use your professional license is not acceptable to me and should not be to you, either.  You may truly believe that "specialization certification"  will help your business if you can elevate your "authority" status beyond other non-specializing attorneys.  And you will take all the courses, exams, overweight your practice in that area of your speciality and then be approved by your peers all in the name of giving yourself a competitive edge but disguised as "protecting the public." Understand, though, a house with every imaginable alarm system to keep intruders out also makes you a prisoner in your home.

How you practice, how you grow in your practice, how you change your practice should be totally up to you without any limits other than the basic rules of professional conduct.  If you need or want to shift gears in your practice areas for whatever reason you should be able to do so without suffering professionally or financially because you are not "certified" in the practice area you now want to try.

"Specialization Certification," especially in something as basic as residential real estate, is created by those who are already at the top of their game.  It has nothing to do with protecting the public.   It has everything to do with closing the palace doors on the great unwashed masses of new lawyers looking to raid the royal coffers.  (Can you say, "Real Estate Bubble Has Burst?)

In the news today an excerpt:

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.

Anyone who has ever shopped for a lawyer knows you can get the information you need about who is good or the tops in their field with a little research. The real acknowledgement that you are a respected authority in your field is the court of public opinion.  And that honor is bestowed upon you with increased business through the word-of-mouth of satisfied clients and your professional colleagues.   


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Chuck Newton

Texas has this requirement. Further, you have to put that you are Certified or you have to place on anything considered an advertisement or promotion that you are "Not Certified By The Texas Board of Legal Specialization".

Interesting enough The Texas Bar moved to remove this requirement several years ago, and the percentage of the votes were for removing this requirement, but less than 50% of the lawyers voted so the vote did not count under our rules.

My experience is that it is a selling point for those Certified, but nothing else. But, I have never experienced a lack of business or a loss of business by those who have to disclaim that they are not Certified. In fact, from a layman's standpoint it is silly because nobody much understands what this "Not Certified" statement means. Most do not care because they are interested in having a particular problem solved, and they do not identify how this Certification helps them achieve this.

It has caused a problem of sorts for those who are Certified as well. First, they have to disclose their Certification on everything. Then, as a result, they are held to higher standard by the public and in malpractice suits and the like.

I think my Dad had an analogy about his. He graduated from Johns Hopkins University Medical School and the Wilmer Eye Institute at the Medical School. Among doctors Johns Hopkins is considered, or at least was considered, the top medical school in the Country. After serving in the Air Force has head of aerospeace medicine he moved to Texarkana , Texas-Arkansas to practice ophthalmology. After all, despite his success, he was just a country boy at heart. Soon after starting his new practice he bragged to one of his old salt of the earth cataract patients from the backwoods of Arkansas that he graduated first in his class at the Johns Hopkins. The lady's response was "Where is that, and do they or don't they believe in God there".

The point in this story is that eye patients and law clients come to you because they have come to believe that you can solve a real world problem. They do not, for example think in terms of torts, real estate law, bankruptcy law, family law and the like. They think in terms of gettig a divorce, establishing child support, solving a debt problem, or financing property. They do not much ask if you graduated from Yale, Harvard, Quinnipiac or South Texas. Likewise, they do not much understand or care about the the Certification issues. It's nice, but it is not determinative of anything. A cataract patient wants better vision. A bankruptcy client wants to be debt free. A divorce client wants to be free of his or her spouse. They come to you because they understand that you can help them do so.

Susan Cartier Liebel


I agree with your point that noone ultimately cares where you graduated. They want a problem solved. However, when it comes to "specialization certification, " particularly in the area of residential real estate there are non-legal professionals involved, banks, mortgage brokers, real estate agents. It is very competitive to get on banks' short list of approved attorneys to represent the lender. As a marketing tool, certification would be a very attractive selling feature for banks to promote to their customers. It would be attractive to large real estate companies, too.

In addition, in most of Connecticut the buyer is not required to have legal representation. So that leaves a lender's lawyer for every closing and some buyers lawyers. The opportunities are diminished. That makes the market very tight, especially in our current economic climate.

Certification, in this instance, plays a very different role then, say, certification in bankruptcy or divorce because other people can control the opportunity for you to make a living in your chosen practice area.

I always say, "follow the money" and you will know what the real motivation is. This is a wolf in sheep's clothing

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