As lawyers seek new ways to build their businesses, some are obtaining financial credentials. The ranks of certified financial planners are swelling nationwide, but the number of lawyers so designated remains relatively small. Three Texas lawyers who have passed the certification exam say the decision to acquire the extra credentials has paid off.
Steven Glenn Shaw, a 20-year lawyer who also has taught college finance courses, took the exam several years ago and earned a certified financial planner license, also known as a CFP license, from the Washington, D.C.-based Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc.
"I like to collect letters of the alphabet and put them on my wall," jokes Shaw, a family lawyer in Richardson.
The CFP board’s mission is to uphold a "recognized standard of excellence for competent and ethical personal financial planning." In the past five years, according to Dan Drummond, a spokesman for the CFP board, the number of CFPs in the United States has jumped 24 percent to 67,000 nationwide.
But the number of practicing lawyers who hold CFP credentials represents a much smaller universe. The CFP board’s website shows about 200 CFPs who also give legal advice nationwide, and only about 16 of those are in Texas.
Among them are Shaw, the owner of the Law Office of Steven Glenn Shaw in Richardson; Victor Kormeier, a partner in Houston’s Kormeier & Walters; and Mark S. Whitaker, a partner in Temple’s Baird, Crews, Schiller & Whitaker. Their CFP credentials have attracted clients, established their authority and expertise in courtrooms and arbitration settings, and introduced them to a broader community of financial advisers, all three lawyers say.
Lawyers must jump through fewer hoops to acquire CFP credentials than other applicants. The CFP board exempts attorneys from requirements that they take courses in financial planning, instead allowing them to proceed directly to certification exams.
However, like all CFPs, lawyers must pay a yearly $325 licensing fee and about $100 in continuing education fees.
To pass those CFP exams, Shaw, Kormeier and Whitaker say lawyers need a comprehensive background in financial concepts. Also, lawyers who want to maintain their CFP credentials should expect to take regular tests to maintain their certification.
For Shaw, who says 90 percent of his practice involves family law matters, his CFP credentials have opened doors, added a feather to his marketing cap, and led to recognition for knowledge he already had acquired from decades of studying and then teaching financial and budget-evaluation issues. Since acquiring his CFP credentials in 2011, Shaw says he has begun serving an expert witness in the courtroom in divorce cases, helping evaluate assets and business plans.
Kormeier, who earned his law degree in 1966, has an estate-planning practice. He is certified in estate planning and probate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is a certified public accountant. Earning his CFP certification in 1991 was the icing on the cake.
"We don’t make a big deal out of it. We just put it in there [with other marketing material] as additional information. I think what we are trying to convey is that we have knowledge and familiarity with the financial side of estate planning," Kormeier says about the CFP certification.
Whitaker, who has been practicing since 1992 and also is board certified in estate and probate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, earned his CFP in 2002.
"Bar none, it’s the best thing I ever did," says the Temple lawyer. After law school, Whitaker earned an MBA and, as a result, he says, "I became fascinated with the idea of financial planning and the idea of taking a complete approach to investments."
When he learned about the CFP credentials, he says, "I thought it would be a good arrow in my quiver."
The coursework waiver for attorney-CFP applicants increased his interest, Whitaker says, and he was also motivated by his then-pending plans to become board certified in estate planning. He thought the CFP preparations would help him prepare for the estate planning and probate law certification.
Since earning the CFP credentials, Whitaker says, others’ perception of his level of financial expertise has risen.
"It has provided me with a higher level of respect from the financial types who I work with," he says. He gets referrals often, he says, from other CFPs. "We have a common thread," Whitaker says.