I am proud to be able to add four additional letters after my name: CELA. In a world with a dizzying number of designations, you may ask, “How important could those four extra letters really be?” I can state with certainty that these letters really do mean a lot. Having a law firm with attorneys holding the CELA designation is very important when choosing your elder law firm.
Marshall, Parker and Weber attorneys Matthew J. Parker, Tammy A. Weber, and now, me, Elizabeth A. White, each hold the Board Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) designation in Pennsylvania. Three CELA attorneys in one law firm is particularly notable, considering that fewer than fifty attorneys in Pennsylvania hold the CELA designation.
A Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA) is an attorney who has satisfied high standards to obtain certification in the area of elder law. These standards are set forth by the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) and the designation is certified by the American Bar Association and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
The purpose of the designation is to allow those needing advice in the specialized areas of elder law and special needs planning a method to confirm that the attorney he or she is hiring is beyond qualified to handle his or her legal issues. While any attorney can hold themselves out as an “elder law attorney” only those that fulfilled the requirements set forth by NELF can use the “CELA” designation.
Obtaining certification as a CELA is a rigorous process that includes practice qualifications, continuing legal education requirements, peer recommendations, and passing a challenging day-long exam. The standards are set high in order to ensure NELF’s purpose that those designated as CELAs can be identified by prospective clients and the community as having specialized knowledge, experience, and expertise in the areas of elder law and special needs planning.
In order to begin the certification process, an attorney in good standing must practice law for a minimum of five years. Additionally, in three of those past five years the attorney must devote at least half of his or her law practice in the area of elder law and special needs planning.
Substantial involvement in special needs and elder law practice must be proven by participation in at least forty-five (45) hours of continuing legal education in the area of elder law in the past three years, and the applicant must provide proof of at least 60 elder law cases handled in the categories that make up elder law.
Only after these requirements are satisfied may the applicant sit for the certified elder law attorney exam. The pass rate for the exam is typically very low, with many pass rates below 50%, and recent pass rates at approximately 33%.
The exam consists of multiple choice and short and long essay questions that call the test taker to have an in-depth knowledge of elder law issue spotting and advice. The exam tests on various areas of elder law and special needs planning, including powers of attorney, health and personal care planning, trusts, wills, guardianships, probate proceedings, trust administration, long term care insurance, special needs planning, retirement planning, nursing home resident rights, and government benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SSI and Veteran’s benefits.
Finally, peers in the legal community and elder law community must review the applicant, including providing input on the attorney’s reputation for ethical and competent representation in the area of elder law and special needs planning.
If you have received a letter signed from a Marshall, Parker and Weber attorney, you may have noticed a “CELA” after a designated attorney’s name. While some people seal a letter with a kiss to show that it was sent with love and care, I am now honored to be an attorney at Marshall, Parker and Weber who can “seal my letter with a CELA” because our “CELA seals” also represent care in a culmination of years of elder law experience, constant education on ever changing laws, and ethical and knowledgeable representation of clients.
Elder law issues are complicated, and to place your trust in a firm with three CELA designated attorneys gives you assurance that the firm you are working with has been recognized as providing quality legal services in the area of elder law.
For more information on Certified Elder Law Attorneys visit NELF’s website at: National Elder Law Foundation