The American College of Real Estate Lawyers
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Commentary on Member Selection Guidelines


            This commentary is intended to assist Members when they seek to nominate lawyers for admission to the College.  It does not supersede the Membership Guidelines; rather, its purpose is to provide nominators with insight into the selection process.


  • Guideline 5 states that a primary objective of the College is to recruit the “best real estate lawyers in the United States….”  The Guidelines make it clear, however, that being an excellent practitioner is not sufficient in and of itself for membership, nor is it the sole criterion for membership; rather, the nominee’s background must also demonstrate an established record of having “given back” to the legal profession.

  • The Guidelines that typically are the sources of the most questions about a nominee’s qualifications are Guidelines 5.a. (“Distinction Requirement”) and 5.b. (“Give Back Requirement”).  These requirements read, in pertinent part, as follows:

5.a. The nominee must be a distinguished real property law practitioner who is well known as a specialist in real estate law or a subspecialty thereof by fellow members of the real estate bar and who enjoys an outstanding reputation for excellence and integrity in the practice of law.

5.b.      The nominee shall have devoted substantial time and effort to add to a more informed bar or public with respect to matters of real estate law and to improve real estate practice and real estate law by teaching, writing, working in the organized bar, acting in connection with the adoption of legislation or otherwise performing public service (all other than as the nominee’s primary profession)….

Both of these criteria must be satisified.

3. The Distinction Requirement (Guideline 5.a.)

  • The touchstone of the Distinction Requirement is that the nominee is recognized by fellow members of the commercial real estate bar as being a distinguished commercial real property law practitioner. 

  • Recognition as a distinguished practitioner is not dependent on the size of the locale within which the nominee practices; quality is the distinguishing characteristic.  There are many examples in the College of excellent lawyers having sophisticated practices in smaller communities.

  • Nominees specializing in areas such as agricultural law, ranch law or the real estate aspects of financing, bankruptcy or environmental law can certainly satisfy the Distinction Requirement, provided they devote sufficient time to real estate matters to be considered specialists.  It is unlikely, however, that a nominee whose practice is limited exclusively to residential closings will satisfy the Distinction Requirement.


Merely stating in your nomination letter that the nominee is a “distinguished practitioner” is not enough.  Your nomination has a better chance of being successful if it explicitly (a) explains why the nominee is considered distinguished; (b) describes what the nominee’s specialty is; (c) details why the nominee enjoys a reputation as an outstanding practitioner by members of the real estate bar practicing in the nominee’s area of specialization; and (d) describes any professional interaction the nominator had with the nominee.

Remember that the Member Selection Committee makes many phone calls to Members in the nominee’s state.  If the nominee has a practice that is national rather than local, so that the nominee is better known by those outside the state than in the state, please explain this in detail in the nomination letter.  That will assist the Member Selection Committee in its efforts.

4. The “Give Back” Requirement (Guideline 5.b.).

  • The “Give Back Requirement” is a critical aspect of membership. ACREL’s membership criteria focus on proven accomplishments, not anticipated future ones.

  • Merely participating in real-estate related continuing legal education programs is not sufficient, standing alone, to satisfy the “Give Back Requirement”.  The Member Selection Committee also considers the sophistication of the real estate presentations and programs.   The key for ACREL is that the CLE focus on important, timely real estate and real-estate related issues in the thoughtful, probing manner for which ACREL is known.

  • Typically, the Member Selection Committee places special weight on CLE presentations given to national, state, local, and specialty bar associations and to certain non-legal groups whose focus is real estate (such as the Mortgage Bankers Association, the Urban Land Institute, or the International Council of Shopping Centers).  Although a CLE program presented to a for-profit CLE provider may qualify, the emphasis is on the sophistication level of the presentation and any related materials. 

TIP FOR NOMINATORS:  Do not simply state that the nominee gives “numerous” CLE presentations.  The nomination letter should specify the topics on which the candidate speaks, the sophistication of the topics, and the quality of the nominee’s presentations, and any materials the nominee distributes as part of the presentations.

  • Teaching and writing about real estate law can each satisfy the Give Back Requirement if they involve substantial time and effort. With respect to writing, the level of sophistication of the article and the reputation of the periodical or book in which the writing appears are considered.  These activities clearly add to a more informed bar or public on real estate matters.  Being an adjunct professor at a law school would be an example of a commitment meeting the “substantial time and effort” test; merely being a guest lecturer at classes would not.

  • If a nominee engages in bar activities that do not involve real-estate related speaking or writing activities but which are more in the nature of organizational or administrative functions necessary for the presentation of sophisticated real estate CLE, the nomination letter should include a detailed explanation of the nominee’s role.  This will enable the Member Selection Committee to assess whether these actions alone or in combination with other contributions will be sufficient for the nominee to have satisfied the Give Back Requirement.  For example, a nominee who has spent substantial time and effort in planning and organizing the presentation of sophisticated real-estate related CLE programs but who has not spoken or provided written materials may be deemed to have contributed to a more informed bar or public depending on the nature of the responsibilities assumed; such efforts are given due consideration.

TIP FOR NOMINATORS: In this instance, the nomination letter should emphasize the sophisticated real estate nature of the CLE programs and indicate specifically what the nominee has done (such as choosing the topics, arranging for the speakers, vetting or editing the materials, etc.) and any reasons why the nominee has not participated as a speaker or writer.

  • Typically, nominations of those who have been involved with Bar leadership activities (e.g., chair or other officer) of a national, state, local or specialty bar real estate council or committee are likely to be considered as having satisfied the Give Back Requirement.  Conversely, a nominee whose only “Give Back” consists of participation in the “political” side of bar activities (e.g., serving as president of a bar association without involvement in its real estate activities) would likely not, by itself, satisfy the Give Back Requirement.

TIP FOR NOMINATORS: For nominees whose “Give Back” consists of bar activities, be sure to specify how these activities relate to real estate.

  • Nominations of those whose only “Give Back” is community service activities in real estate related areas are given due consideration if they involve a pattern of consistent and substantive involvement.  For example, serving on the board of a local housing authority or a local Habitat for Humanity-style organization are given appropriate weight in satisfying the Give Back Requirement; however, community service activities are generally insufficient to satisfy the Give Back Requirement unless coupled with other real estate related activities involving substantial time and effort, such as CLE or writing. 

  • The past history of the College indicates that teaching, writing and participation in CLE activities are the predominant and typical means of satisfying the Give Back Requirement.  Although participation in community activities or bar association administrative or organizational activities directly relating to real estate programming are given due consideration, for a nomination to be successful those activities generally need to be coupled with CLE, teaching, or writing activity involving substantial time and effort.

5.      Special Comment About Nominees From Smaller or Rural Cities, Communities, or States

  • The last sentence of Guideline 5.c. states: “While there are not different standards for membership for Members from large and small cities, due regard shall be given to the professional stature of a nominee, to the size of the community in which the nominee practices and to the opportunities for real estate practice in that community.”  This provision is noteworthy; it indicates that although the standards for admission do not vary by geography, the Member Selection Committee does not ignore these factors.

  • Consequently, if a nominee is in a small city or community or a rural area or state, be explicit in your nomination letter about “the size of the community” and “the opportunities for real estate practice in that community” while at the same time describing fully the nominee’s real estate sophistication and background that meet the other ACREL admission criteria. 

TIP FOR NOMINATORS: For nominees from these communities, your nomination letter should describe the community and explain explicitly why your nominee satisfies all the criteria if, for example, the nominee is not otherwise involved in national or state sophisticated real estate CLE presentations.