Competence and skills can be challenging to evaluate in foresight but are often obvious in hindsight. In the planning phase, it is difficult to ascertain whether the drafted documents truly accomplish a client's objectives. Success is often determined many years later, after the clients have died, based on the tax bill at that time and whether the governing instruments are able to serve the intended beneficiaries without conflict, headaches or heartaches during estate and trust administration.
Two important measures to consider are: (1) how long the attorney has been practicing; and (2) how much of the attorney's practice is devoted purely to estate planning and administration. Generally, the more experience specifically with estate planning and administration, the better.
Aside from considering educational background and professional experience, it can be helpful to look at professional recognitions by the attorney's peers. Historically, Martindale Hubbell's AV rating was the gold standard to measure both competence and ethics. Martindale had changed its process in recent years, and newer competent attorneys may be less inclined to have an MH evaluation done. Instead, many rely on peer recognition measures like Leading Lawyers®, Best Lawyers®, and Super Lawyers®.
Another informative credential is whether the attorney has been admitted as a Fellow in the American College of Trusts and Estate Council (ACTEC), which requires them to speak, write and/or engage in legislative activities and requires peers to have indicated they are comfortable referring clients to the lawyer.