Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lawyer Specialization: Selecting a Certified Elder Law Attorney

What is Lawyer Certification

Maybe you have never needed the services of an attorney before; but now you do. Obviously, you want to find a lawyer who is an expert in the area of law relating to your legal needs and can best handle your particular legal situation.

To help you find such a lawyer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has established rules for the certification of lawyers who are proven experts in a particular area of law. Certification is designed to help the public make informed decisions when selecting a lawyer. It can help you make a smart choice when you chose a lawyer to represent you. 

At the present time Pennsylvania lawyers can be certified in the following areas of law: Civil Trial Advocacy, Criminal Trial Advocacy, Family Law Trial Advocacy, Elder Law, Business Bankruptcy, Consumer Bankruptcy, and Creditors’ Rights. Certification is recognition by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of the competency and experience of attorneys who have been certified in those areas of law. Consumers who need expert help in one of these legal areas can look for a lawyer who has proven his or her skill by attaining certification. 

How can you Find a Certified Elder Law Attorney

Let’s say that your wife or mother needs nursing home care and your family needs help with the complicated issues that arise in that situation. This is an area where you could use the legal guidance of a certified elder law attorney. How do you find one?  
Trying to find a certified specialist in elder law is not all that easy. First, you need to understand that all lawyers are allowed to advertise that they practice in any legal area. A lawyer who does mostly real estate work can advertise that they handle criminal cases.  An attorney who is not certified can nevertheless advertise that they practice “elder law.” No experience or special skill is needed. 

This means the consumer has to recognize the keys words that are evidence of certification. Only lawyers who have met the Supreme Court’s requirements for certification are allowed to identify themselves as “Certified” or as a “Specialist” in an area of law. Certified Elder Law Attorneys usually use the abbreviation “CELA” (for Certified Elder Law Attorney) to signify their certified status.  So, in seeking out a certified specialist in elder law you need to look for one of these three key words: Certified or Specialist or CELA. Only a lawyer who has met all of the high standards set by the Supreme Court can say that they are Certified or a Specialist or a CELA. 

Marshall, Parker & Associates has 5 CELAs working at its four office locations in Williamsport, Jersey Shore, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Pennsylvania. You can contact any one of these offices to set up an appointment with a Certified Elder Law Attorney. If you are located out of these geographic areas, the National Elder Law Foundation maintains a list of all of the Certified Elder Law Attorneys in Pennsylvania (as well as other states).  To find one in your geographic area you can visit the Foundation’s website at

What are the Criteria for Certification as an Elder Law Attorney

Lawyers who are certified in elder law typically deal with issues such as: protecting assets from the cost of long term care whether at home or in a nursing facility; Medicare and Medicaid; wills, trusts and estate planning; representation of trustees and executors; health and personal care planning; tax planning for seniors; financial and health care power of attorney; special needs trusts; Veterans pension benefits; guardianship; public benefits programs and insurance; probate and winding up the affairs of someone who has died; protecting the rights of residents of long-term care facilities; retirement matters; reducing income, estate, inheritance and gift taxes; and claims against nursing homes. 

A lawyer must demonstrate expert knowledge in the areas of elder law by passing a tough full-day certification examination. (This examination is failed by a majority of the lawyers who take it). The lawyer must receive positive peer reviews from at least five attorneys who are familiar with their competence and qualifications in elder law. In addition, the lawyer must have had substantial experience in dealing with elder law matters and they must have participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in elder law during the preceding three years. The above requirements are difficult to meet. 

A lawyer must prove that they have enhanced knowledge, skills, experience, and proficiency to be identified to the public as a Certified Elder Law Attorney. As a result, informed consumers who understand the significance of certification in the legal profession can use this information to help assure that they get high qualify legal services when they hire a lawyer. Why take a chance? When you need an elder law attorney it is just good common sense to choose a certified lawyer to represent you.  

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