I recently had an opportunity to talk with E. K. Morley, a board certified specialist in Hendersonville. Morley earned his undergraduate degree at Pennsylvania State University and began his legal education at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, completing his law degree at Wake Forest University School of Law in 1982. He settled in Hendersonville, working primarily in tax law. He became a board certified specialist in estate planning and probate law in 1995 and now practices at the Law Offices of E. K. Morley, PLLC, with his wife Ruth, a board certified paralegal.
In his spare time, E. K. enjoys traveling with his wife and the photos featured here are from his recent 300K bike tour through northern and eastern parts of France, including Auxerre, Saulieu, and Beaune in Burgundy. He and Ruth look for travel opportunities that involve challenges and have taken similar bike tours in Canada as well as cross country ski tours. E. K. seeks challenges beyond travel as well, having attained his general contractor's license to build a Swiss chalet in the mountains that he and Ruth enjoy in their down time. At age 77, E. K. maintains a full work schedule, and is committed to staying active in both his free time and his law practice. Here are his comments about the specialization program and the impact it's had on his career.
Q: Why did you pursue certification?
I was 51 when I graduated from law school in 1981, and I had enjoyed a successful career with Caterpillar overseas. I knew that I didn't want to work for anyone else and that I didn't have time to try and learn every area of the law. I wanted to specialize and initially I started working in tax law. That led to work in estate planning and probate law. Earning the board certification helped me to further narrow my work so that now I primarily handle estate, probate, and trust litigation. I enjoy enforcing and modifying documents. At this point in my career, with the experience I've had, I can relatively quickly analyze an estate plan or trust, determine any issues or problems that exist, and what remedies are available.
Q: How did you prepare for the examination?
I took, and have continued to take, many estate planning continuing legal education (CLE) courses, including the Heckerling Institute, the Duke University annual estate planning course, and the NC Bar Association annual meeting for the estate planning section. My experience in tax law was really helpful as well.
Q: Has certification been helpful to your practice?
Yes, it has clearly been helpful to my practice. I take personal pride in my board certification and enjoy mentioning it to others. On my recent bike tour in France, as we all made our introductions, I made sure to include my North Carolina State Bar board certification, and this was a group with no other lawyers present. I include the certification wording on my letterhead and believe that it gives me an edge in many situations. It has also justified my charging higher hourly rates over the years.
Q: How does your certification benefit your clients?
My clients receive legal assistance that's based on current state and case law authorities, and they receive a suggested plan of action with prices included. This is drawn from experience and is a direct result of my specialization. I am able to provide much more and better oriented advice. I see myself as offering boutique legal services, a small firm providing personal attention. Yes, it will cost a bit more, but the client will receive something that will last and of which they can be proud. In many cases, clients do a disservice to themselves in the long run by going to someone who is marginally qualified.
Q: Are there any hot topics in your specialty area right now?
The Chapter 36C rules of the NC Uniform Trust Code have been in effect about two years and by now most lawyers are aware of the rules and can see the advantages. We can now make some modifications to irrevocable trusts and the clerk has more authority.
Q: How do you stay current in your field?
Beyond the CLE courses that I take each year, I subscribe to the Thompson West Information Service. That provides immediate access to updates and case law changes. I can take my laptop to our chalet in Black Mountain and stay completely updated. I know that I have responded more quickly than others because of this efficiency of quick access. I also devote my full-time practice to this field, which keeps my knowledge base narrow, but deep.
Q: How is certification important in your practice area and in your region?
Board certification may not be absolutely necessary, but it has been a real assistance to me. My knowledge of this practice area allows me to handle some cases that would be too difficult for others. I do think that the certification is necessary to compete effectively in this region, however. There are 100 counties in the state and 128 board certified specialists in estate planning and probate law. This translates to 1.28 per county. In Henderson County, we have an extreme concentration with four specialists, so it's very important and necessary.
Q: How does specialization benefit the public?
The specialization program does two important things for the public. First, it gives the public ready access to a higher level pool of legal talent. All members of the pool have proven this by meeting the program standards, including a rigorous examination. Second, the program provides assurance that any professional included is currently qualified because he/she has to annually maintain certification standards. I think that's a critical component of the program.
Q: Is there a recent case you've had where your specialization came in handy?
Yes, in fact, I've worked a great deal on Livesay vs. Carolina First Bank, 665 SE 2nd 158, which involves the question of whether or not assets from a revocable trust are available to pay creditor's claims if estate assets are insufficient. I believe that this was the first case to involve Section 36C-5-505 heard by the court of appeals.
Q: How do you see the future of specialization?
If I were to graduate from law school now, I would immediately start working toward specialization and become board certified as soon as possible. I think the program will continue to grow and provide opportunities for young lawyers.
Q: In what other areas would you like to see certification offered?
I think securities law could keep a lawyer busy for the next 25 years. This is an area that has tremendous potential and need.
Q: What would you say to encourage other lawyers to pursue certification?
I would suggest that they not be concerned at all with the argument that becoming a specialist holds you to some higher standard. I have never encountered that in my practice. On the contrary, I believe that specializing in one's practice actually serves to minimize the risk of malpractice because the lawyer's knowledge of his/her practice area is deep.
For more information on the State Bar's specialization programs please visit us on the web at www.nclawspecialists.gov.
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