To the Editor:

I read the Advice of Counsel column, “Certification Bid Must End,” in the Aug. 13, 2007 issue with great dismay. It called for derailing the specialist certification program for residential real estate.

The column’s analysis could benefit from our experience with the certification process in workers’ compensation, which is currently the only specialist program certified by the Connecticut Bar Association. It took more than 10 years before the first specialists were certified in May 2001. We now have six years of history to look back on to gauge the impact of certification on this area of practice.

One of the column’s criticisms of the proposed program was that no scandal has arisen which could have been prevented by a certification program in real estate. Is this to suggest we should wait for one? We saw the disastrous results of that line of reasoning with the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. (A cartoon on that very issue appeared on the page opposite the Advice of Counsel column.)

Another of the arguments presented against the program was that lawyers, having graduated from law school and passed the bar exam are now fully competent in these (real estate closings) core tasks. While I question that premise, I think every attorney should strive to improve their skills through practice, mentoring and CLE. The certification process should be the culmination of all of those.

The Law Tribune‘s Advisory Board also warns that no one can predict the impact of specialization on the marketplace. In fact, I believe we can. In the workers’ compensation field, I do not believe there has been a substantial impact on the marketplace. Insurance companies, like banks, will select those people that they feel are capable of practicing in that field, regardless of whether they are certified specialists or not.

In the same vein, the board contends that once non-certified lawyers have been dropped from the closing process, certified lawyers will increase their rates. First, in the workers’ compensation field, we have not seen any appreciable “drop-out rate.” Certainly, we have not seen any impact on the fees attorneys charge whether they are certified or non-certified.

Finally, the column contends that the real benefactor of the certification program is the CBA via the $150 yearly fee for certification, and the development and presentation of CLE programs. First, the cost of administering the certification program far exceeds the $150-per-specialist revenues that the CBA generates. Secondly, is the Advisory Board suggesting that continuing legal education is a bad thing? The vast majority of other states require CLE. Clearly, this “voluntary” program to have a minimum of 12 hours of continuing legal education per year will only benefit the profession, and more importantly, our clients.

And they, indeed, are the most important beneficiary of the specialist program – our clients. Certainly, I don’t believe there are many board certified specialists in workers’ compensation that will tell you that their practice has been significantly affected by the fact that they are board-certified specialists. Most of us did it because of our feeling of professional pride in what we do.

The real benefactor is the consumer (we call them clients) who, when they have no knowledge of a person’s competency in an area, can look to that as a barometer. Is it better that we have attorneys advertising, and being self-proclaimed experts in a field, or is it better that we have a certification program as an objective standard? The medical profession has had specialty certification for years. It is time for us to follow suit.

Certification of specialization is not without its flaws. What it does, however, is provide an objective standard to measure those who have knowledge, experience, professional liability insurance and a commitment to continuing legal education in their field. We, as attorneys, may be the secondary beneficiaries of that standard. Our clients, however, are the primary beneficiaries. That can only enhance our profession.

Mark D. Leighton, Esq.

Leighton, Katz & Drapeau


Editor’s note: Attorney Leighton is the vice chairman of the CBA’s Workers’ Compensation Section.