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Waiving Exam Could Boost Specialization

dmc-admin//March 23, 1992

Waiving Exam Could Boost Specialization

dmc-admin//March 23, 1992

Specialists might not like it, but waiving the written exam might be the boost that the troubled specialization program needs.

That’s one conclusion that can be drawn from the Lawyers Weekly Fax Poll, published in the March 16 issue.

As might be expected, the Bar’s proposal to waive examinations for some lawyers does not sit well with specialists who have already sweated through a written test. All 20 of the specialists responding to the fax poll said the exam should not be dropped.

Said one specialist: ‘The exam serves a useful purpose. Experience alone does not qualify an attorney and should not qualify him or her as a specialist.”

On the other hand, 13 of 26, or half the non-specialists who replied to the poll, said the Bar should waive the exam for experienced attorneys. Those same 13 lawyers said they would become specialists if they didn’t have to take a written exam.

The obvious conclusion: Just as the State Bar suspects, many experienced lawyers would jump on the specialization bandwagon if the exam was dropped for a limited time.

Raleigh attorney J. Harold Tharrington, a long-time family practitioner who is not a specialist, offered the most persuasive argument in support of the Bar’s position.

Said Tharrington: “I believe the Bar would benefit by grandfathering lawyers of proven competence in a given field of practice into the specialization program during its formative years. I have practiced family law predominately for 28 and exclusively for 15 years. I feel I can legitimately hold myself out as a specialist.

‘I don’t have to have the label to attract clients, and at this stage of life I don’t plan to take any more examinations,’ he added. ‘However, it would be a nice recognition for what I have accomplished.”

Interestingly, some of the non-specialists said the Bar should not waive the exam. A common theme among that group was the belief that the entire program would somehow be cheapened.

One Durham bankruptcy attorney commented: “I plan to take the exam as soon as I am eligible (1994). If you drop the exam, you will lower the requirements, and I will no longer wish to be part of the non-exclusive group of ‘specialists’ while increasing potential liability or my standard as an expert.

Oppose Program

Lawyer’s Weekly’s fax poll found a deep well of resentment toward specialization. Seven of the 27 non-specialists who answered the poll said they were philosophically opposed to the specialization program. Those seven lawyers indicated they would not take part in the program even if the exam was eliminated.

One non-specialist commented: “The State Bar has spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours trying to make this program work ‘ and only 213 in five years. Georgia rescinded its specialization program because it didn’t work. Wake up State Bar.”

There was one oddity among this bunch. One Raleigh attorney said he opposed the specialization program. But he said he would become a specialist if the Bar made it easier to do so by dropping the exam.


Specialists and non-specialists alike indicated they would like to see the Bar offer monetary incentives to participants. Any financial edge the Bar might offer would go a long way toward boosting the program, the fax poll reveals.

Here’s how the fax poll respondents rated the incentives the Bar is considering. Several respondents checked more than one choice:

CLE discounts for specialists: 14 lawyers said a break on CLE costs would persuade them to sign up.

Lower premiums for malpractice insurance: Cheaper insurance would be enough to attract many lawyers: 18 respondents checked this option.

A Yellow Book section for specialists only: 15 lawyers said they favored a separate listing for specialists in the telephone directory.

One respondent proposed this additional incentive: “Install a statewide toll-free phone number for a specialist-only referral service.”

Another said the Bar should stress the competence of the specialists in a statewide advertising program.

But some lawyers who opposed specialization were openly critical about the monetary incentives that the Bar hopes to offer specialists. One respondent predicted the rest of the bar would bear the financial brunt if specialists were given a break.

“If some lawyers are given discounts, I fully expect that the rest of us will pay in the form of increased fees or premiums,’ he said. ‘Surely the CLE providers and the insurers are not going to earn less money than they are currently making.

Paying Own Way

Who should pay for the specialization program? Fifteen lawyers, or about one-third of those responding to the poll, said the entire bar should bear the expense. But most said the specialists themselves should fund it.

Asked what specialties the Bar should add next, five lawyers voted for personal injury; two said insurance; two said environmental; health, workers’ compensation, tax, and administrative each received one vote.

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