Elder Law Bar Pushes For 'Specialist' Status

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Sharon Pope, a partner at CzepigaDalyPope in Hartford, has been fully supportive of efforts to increase specialization status for lawyers. Especially in her own practice area, elder law.

Most of her clients are elderly people "of modest means," she said, who need a lawyer to resolve short-term emergency matters, such as access to home nursing care.

"In the elder law practice, it can be extremely helpful for the consumer to be able to find a lawyer easily, and one of the best ways to do that is to provide a listing of lawyers who are certified in a particular area," Pope said.

Pope, who just finished a term as the president of the CBA's Elder Law Practice Section, said she worked for several years to add elder law to the list of recognized legal specializations that are currently recognized by the Connecticut Judicial Branch. Such status is required before a lawyer can advertise as a legal "specialist" in his or her practice area.

Last month, the request by the elder law bar was approved by a special committee of the Connecticut Bar Association. Under the current proposal, which awaits approval of the Judicial Branch Rules Committee, lawyers would be required to pass exams in order to be certified as elder lawyers.

If the Rules Committee gives its approval, elder law practitioners would join workers' compensation, child welfare law, civil trial practice, criminal law, consumer bankruptcy law, and business bankruptcy law as practice areas in wich lawyers can be granted specialization status.

CBA President Kimberly Knox said there has been "a steady stream" of practice groups seeking specialization status in recent few years. "There are typically one or two requests every year," she said. Right now, attorneys who practice Social Security disability advocacy are also requesting specialty status in Connecticut.

Knox said having lawyers recognized as specialists, after taking rigorous exams and completing CLE requirements, provides a certain level of comfort for consumers. "It's a nice thing for the public because if a person is looking for an attorney in a particular practice area, it lets them know that person has been trial certified or has been certified because they handled a number of cases in that particular field," Knox said.

Knox said while the ability to advertise as a legal specialist can give lawyers a competitive edge, it does not necessarily follow that an uncertified attorney is any less skilled. "Some lawyers elect not to go the route of certification, but they are every bit as competent as other, certified lawyers," she said. "But they can't hold themselves out as certified specialists. It's a choice they make."

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