What is CELA and CAP?

A quick glance through any attorney Internet directory will reveal that most attorneys specialize in certain fields of law. With the aging baby boom and a slump in other specialized areas of law, more attorneys are looking to elder law as an area of practice. So how can you as a consumer know whether an attorney has deep expertise in the area or if they are a newcomer to the field? Fortunately there are two national organizations that recognize expertise in the area of elder law.

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. There are only approximately 450 CELA’s in the country and less than 50 in all of New Jersey. By comparison, there are 1,500 certified matrimonial lawyers in the state of New Jersey alone.

Choosing a CELA means that you can be sure your attorney has:

  1. Passed a rigorous examination which has less than a 30% pass rate
  2. Demonstrated substantial involvement by handling at least 60 elder law matters across seven subspecialties of elder law
  3. Focused at least half of their practice in the specialty for three of the last five years
  4. Taken at least forty five hours of continuing legal education in elder law in the three years preceding the application
  5. Listed at least five references who are familiar with the attorney’s work in elder law

For over twenty years, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) has been a leading professional organization for attorneys specializing in elder and special needs Law. NAELA established the Council of Advanced Practitioners (CAP**) as an invitation-only council for Advanced Practitioners in 2005. To be invited to join CAP, an attorney is required to be a Member of NAELA for 10 consecutive years, be rated “AV – Pre-Eminent,” (the highest rating available for legal skills and ethical conduct), and be a NAELA Fellow or Certified Elder Law Attorney.

Membership in CAP is by invitation only and is designated to recognize those members of NAELA who are perceived to be innovators in the field of elder law and instrumental to the future of elder law.

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