I’ve been practicing mostly family law since 2005. First for almost five years in Florida, and since 2010 here in North Carolina. But for a variety of reasons, I’ve been hesitant to take the North Carolina Family Law Specialist Exam, even though I was eligible to do so probably 7 or 8 years ago.
Before I get into my reasons for why I’ve avoided taking the exam until now, let’s talk for a bit about what the exam is and why it is important.
What Does it Mean to be “Board Certified” as a Specialist in North Carolina?
The Bar offers a designation as a “North Carolina family law specialist” to attorneys that meet certain criteria, which vary by practice area. Typically, these criteria include:
- Continuing Education Requirements
- Devoting 25% of more of the lawyers practice to the specialty
- Peer Review and confirmation that the lawyer has the qualifications to be board certified in the specialty
- Passing a 6 hour exam in the specialty
Once a lawyer becomes board certified, they must apply for recertification every 5 years. According to the State Bar website, “board certification is an indication that the lawyer has intentionally focused his or her legal practice to improve the proficiency and quality of the lawyer’s legal services and to stay current in the specialty field.”
So basically, a board-certified specialist has made the decision to focus their legal practice on certain types of cases and remain up-to-date and proficient in that area of the law.
Why I’ve Decided to take the North Carolina Family Law Specialist Exam
Here’s the thing, at The Hart Law Firm, 95% of the cases we handle are family law related. In other words, the bulk of the work we do is to help people who are going through a legal separation and divorce. We work with people to negotiate support payments (including child support, post separation support and alimony), divide up marital property and debts (also known as equitable distribution), and develop effective co-parenting schedules for the sake of the children.
These are the things that a family law specialist does, but to be called a specialist, you must satisfy all of the other requirements listed above.
I’ve decided that since I’m already limiting the focus of my practice to family law, I might as well sit for the exam!
How Long Does it Take to Become a Board Certified Specialist?
There are two main roadblocks to becoming a family law specialist. The first is the continuing education requirement. The second is the exam itself.
You must complete 45 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) over the 3 years prior to sitting for the exam. That’s a lot of CLE, and if you don’t plan those CLE’s out ahead of time, you will not be eligible to take the exam. And with regards to those CLE’s, all but 9 hours must be devoted solely to family law. So if you take the wrong types of CLE’s, you won’t be eligible.
So once you become eligible to sit for the exam, you must study and prepare for the exam itself. It’s a 6 hour exam – similar to the bar exam, and covers a variety of topics in all facets of family law. You will be expected to know all the family law statues, as well as, all of the most recent court of appeals decisions for the past 3-5 years.
Needless to say, that is a LOT of material.
And not only that, but the exam is only offered once a year, typically in October or November.
What to Expect From Us During the Coming Year?
Unfortunately, I missed the cutoff to take the exam this fall. But right now I am finishing up my CLE requirements so that I can sit for the exam in 2020. I’m going to be learning a lot about family law, some of which will be review, but a lot of it will be new material as I familiarize myself with recent court cases.
My goal is to blog about the process, and bring a practical spin to the cases I’m reading and learning about.
Because at the end of the day, you probably don’t care much about 99% of what I will be learning unless it is the 1% of the material that will have an impact in your case.