This month I celebrate the five year anniversary of earning the National Elder Law Foundation’s Certified Elder Law Attorney, or CELA, designation. While I have worked with older adults and individuals with special needs throughout my 35+ year legal career, I have found this focus on Elder Law over the past decade to be most rewarding.
In order to earn NELF’s Certified Elder Law Attorney designation, several challenging criteria must be met. First, the easy part. The attorney must show “substantial involvement” in Elder Law for the three years prior to application. They need documentation of involvement in at least 60 Elder Law matters or cases during that time. The applicant must have recently completed at least 45 hours of continuing legal education specific to Elder Law. The applicant must then submit the names of 5 attorneys familiar with their competence and qualifications (3 of those must be current CELAs) who recommend the applicant for certification.
Then comes what most describe as “the hard part”. To become a CELA you must pass a 5 1/2 hour exam composed of multiple choice and long essay questions. The pass rate for this exam some years is just over 13%. Currently there are only about 500 active CELAs in the United States, with 30 in Texas, and only one in Dallas County (that’s me).
Many people don’t realize that in addition to Medicaid Planning, VA Pension Planning, Guardianship, Estate Planning, and Probate, Elder Law attorneys also work with individuals with special needs, or who have become disabled. Often this work involves creating Special Needs Trusts.
As I reflect on this milestone, I’m grateful for the clients I have been able to help, and the the professional colleagues who have provided hundreds of referrals. Let’s see what the next 5 years brings!