If you find yourself in need of the services of an elder law attorney you are likely trying to figure out how to choose the right attorney for your needs. Choosing an attorney can be a difficult and time-consuming undertaking for even a simple legal problem. Issues relating to the elderly, however, are rarely simple and often require the services of an attorney who specializes in elder law. How do you know though that an attorney specializes in elder law? One indication is that the attorney carries the distinction of being a Certified Elder Law Attorney, or CELA.
The designation of CELA can only be used by an attorney who has applied, and been certified, by the National Elder Law Foundation, or NELF. NELF is a non-profit organization that was created with the help of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, or NAELA. NAELA was formed back in 1988 as a response to the growing need for attorneys who focus on the unique and complicated needs or the elderly. Because elder law is such a relatively new area of the law, those who were focusing on the legal needs of the elderly decided that an organization was needed to help share information and resources. NAELA was created to fulfill those needs.
Not long after the creation of NEALA it became clear that a certification program was needed for attorneys who wished to become experts or specialists in the area of elder law. Unlike other areas of the law that focus on a narrow area of technical expertise, elder law requires an attorney to understand how numerous areas of the law or legal issues impact a specific demographic, in this case the elderly. To ensure that attorneys focusing on elder law had the education and experience to do so, NELF developed a certification program (CELA) in 1994 which was accredited by the American Bar Association in 1995.
The CELA application process is rigorous, requiring an attorney must be in good standing, have substantial involvement in the practice of Elder Law, take 15 hours of continuing legal education in Elder Law each year, submit to peer review, and successfully pass a comprehensive written examination. The pass rate for the exam only averages 60 percent, a good indication of how difficult the exam is. An attorney who acquires the CELA distinction must re-certify every five years to ensure that he or she remains qualified.
If you are looking for an elder law attorney, check with potential attorneys to see if they are CELA certified to help you narrow down the field of potential candidates.