If you’re in the market for an elder law attorney, you may have noticed that some have “CELA,” “LL.M,” or “VA accredited” after their names. What are these credentials? What do you gain by working with an attorney who has them?
We posed this question to Jessica Greene, who holds the CELA (Certified Elder Law Attorney) designation, the LL.M (Master of Law in Elder Law) designation, and the VA accredited attorney designation. Jessica practices at Walters & Galloway, PLLC, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She says that all three credentials are important indicators of expertise.
Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA)
The American Bar Association accredits the National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) certification for elder law and special needs practitioners to reflect their specialized knowledge and experience. The title, Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), identifies an attorney who has completed the requirements for the NELF certification and passed a written exam. This designation recognizes experienced legal specialists and the CELA certification has frequently been referred to as “the gold standard” for elder law attorneys. Jessica, one of only 500 CELA’s in the country, says that the qualification process is extensive. “You have to be practicing elder law for a certain number of years in order to even be able to sit for the exam,” she explained. “You have to go through all the cases you had over the previous three years and show that you had served people in the various practice areas that make up elder law. You also have to get recommendations from other Certified Elder Law Attorneys. The exam is intense, kind of like a mini bar exam. And then, after that, you still have to complete continuing education each year.”
Master of Laws (LL.M)
The Master of Laws (LL.M) enables attorneys to expand their proficiency in a specific area of law. Derived from Legum Magister, meaning master of laws in Latin, the LL.M degree is a post-Juris Doctor law degree, most commonly sought out by legal professionals interested in advanced study and specialization in a particular topic of law. “It’s all about extra years of education at a law school to become more informed in a particular area,” said Jessica, who earned her LL.M in Elder Law from Stetson Law School in Florida. “Some people think that elder law is all about Medicaid or about helping older people, but there are specific areas of knowledge, including disability planning, estate planning, advanced trust planning, social security, retirement planning, and more. The LL.M training takes a deep dive into each area.”
VA Accredited Attorney
VA accredited attorneys are individuals recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as legally authorized and capable of assisting claimants in pursuit of benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA accreditation is for the sole and limited purpose of preparing, presenting, and prosecuting claims before VA. The accreditation program exists to ensure that veterans and their family members receive adequate, informed representation throughout the VA benefits appeals process. Attorneys must complete continuing education requirements in order to maintain their accreditation.
For Jessica, the investment of time and money in these professional certifications pays off in better service for her clients. “As an attorney in a Life Care Planning Law Firm, I’m focused on the big picture for my clients,” Jessica added. “The advanced training makes it easier for me to provide exactly what clients and their families need.”