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A friend of mine officiated at another friend’s wedding some time before the pandemic. I asked him (in jest) if he was acting in his official capacity as a notary public.

“No,” he replied, “I’m an ordained minister!”

“You’re a WHAT?!?” I quizzically responded. My surprise registered because this particular friend of mine was never the religious type. I didn’t recall him attending any regular church.  As it turns out, he got ordained by an online church on a free internet site. Good enough, I suppose, to officiate a friend’s wedding!

Today there are all sorts of honors, accreditations, recognitions and certifications. Some of them are quite difficult to obtain, others you can get by sending in a couple cereal box tops and a few bucks. How can you tell the difference?

When choosing a doctor, lawyer or other professional, the right certification can mean all the difference in the quality of care or service that you receive. Not all professionals are equal. Each one of us has a different educational background and work experience. In order to differentiate between those that may have superior skills, many professional regulatory agencies offer board certification credentials.

The Florida Bar offers such a program for consumers to differentiate between specialists and generalists.

Estate planning, for example, has become so complicated through all of the myriad laws, rules and regulations that have to be addressed, that there could be a big difference in skills between a “generalist,” someone who might do a little divorce work, a real estate deal or two, as well as prepare wills and trusts, and those skills of a “specialist” that works solely in estate planning.

A Florida lawyer cannot call himself or herself a “specialist” without becoming board certified in his or her respective field. There are over 40 certifications available. I happen to be Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Wills, Trusts & Estates, earning my certification back in 1996.

John Sheppard, one of my law partners who retired some time ago was one of the first board certified wills, trusts & estate specialists in Florida. Michael Hill, one of my current law partners, became board certified in 2008. Mike and I are two of fewer than 315 attorneys throughout the entire state with such a distinction.

You can look up Florida Bar Board Certified Attorney specialists in various fields on the Florida Bar web site http://www.floridabar.org/certification.

That web site explains what it means to become board certified in a particular field. Generally speaking, board certification recognizes attorneys’ special knowledge, skills and proficiency in the area of law in which they are certified. These attorneys must also display the highest degree of professionalism and ethics.

To become a board certified attorney in Florida, one must have a minimum of five years of law practice and substantial involvement in the field of law certified. We must also obtain a satisfactory peer review assessment of competence in the specialty field including character and ethics assessments.

Board certified attorneys in wills, trusts & estates must meet stringent continuing legal education requirements (90 hours in advanced estate planning topics in the three years leading up to initial certification alone, then similar amounts each and every reporting period) and be recertified every five years after passing an initial rigorous board certification examination.

Because of Southwest Florida’s plethora of retirees, I am blessed with a practice that allows me to earn a living concentrating in a narrow area of the law. Because of our unique demographic, I have the luxury of being able to make a living concentrating in one specialty as opposed to having to be a generalist.

That’s why there may be a difference between what your northern attorney may have told you about updating your will and trust to Florida law and what a board certified specialist here in Florida tells you. It’s kind of like asking a question of your primary care physician as opposed to asking a specialist in, say, neurology, cardiology or gastroenterology.

So if you are looking for a professional, it’s not a bad idea to determine if there is a board certification in the field that applies, then going to the appropriate web site to determine who might meet those criteria in your area.

©2021 Craig R. Hersch. Learn more at www.sbshlaw.com

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