When the legal world was simpler, it was common for attorneys to be "general practitioners" who practiced in an array of legal areas. The same person who drafted your Will would also handle your divorce and even defend you in a criminal action. Everybody within a particular community would visit the same "town lawyer" for all of their legal matters.
However, today it is rare to find an attorney who will take anything that walks into the door. The reason is that society has become much more complex and it is not possible for any one person to have the requisite depth of knowledge to practice competently in all practice areas. It has thus become a necessity to focus in one or two key areas of the law. Most laypersons understand this as a common question I receive when I state that I am an attorney is, "In what area do you specialize?"
With Estate Planning in particular, there is a problem with attorneys practicing without the requisite skill and depth of knowledge necessary to be competent and effective. The reason is because many attorneys who advertise that they practice Estate Planning are really experts in other, more stressful fields such as litigation, and turn to Estate Planning after "burning out." How do you know if a particular attorney has requisite skill, education, and dedication to Estate Planning? One way is to inquire as to whether the attorney is a Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.
The California State Bar certifies Legal Specialists to help the public identify attorneys who have demonstrated proficiency in specialized fields of law and to encourage the maintenance and improvement of attorney competence in specialized fields of law. Estate Planning, Trust and Probate law is complex and constantly changing - a Certified Legal Specialist stays current with the law.
A Certified Legal Specialist is more than just an attorney who specializes in a particular area of the law. A California attorney who is certified by the State Bar as an Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law Specialist must have (1) taken and passed a written six hour and fifteen minute examination in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law; (2) demonstrated a high level of experience in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law; (3) fulfilled ongoing education requirements; and (4) been favorably evaluated by other attorneys and judges familiar with his or her work.
For an alphabetical list by county of certified Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law specialists, visit www.californiaspecialist.org.
Kyle A. Krasa, Esq. is a Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law by the California Board of Legal Specialization.