Most attorneys practice in a focused field. Civil litigation. Criminal defense. Bankruptcy law. Real estate law. Etc. While some may practice in more than one area, attorneys generally carve out their niche and hone their skills at becoming the best in that area. One of the best ways for a client to differentiate between attorneys is by finding one who has earned board certification in their practice.
Lawyers and law firms are always seeking to distinguish themselves from the competition in their areas. They use catchy slogans, focused Facebook and Instagram advertising and flashy billboards. These marketing tactics may work. But a better way some attorneys have gone about setting themselves apart is by becoming board certified.
What is Board Certification?
As attorneys, we are (or should be) always striving to sharpen our skills to provide the best representation possible for our clients. The idea behind board certification is creating a list of criteria a lawyer must achieve before they can earn this title, setting them apart as a “specialist” in their practice. The idea is that by setting a higher standard, clients as a result would be better served.
The board certification categories are broad and wide ranging. Florida has 27 different categories of certification. Pennsylvania has one. Civil Trial Advocacy, Criminal Trial Advocacy, Family Law, Social Security Disability, Bankruptcy, Estate & Trust Law, and Workers Compensation Law are just a few categories in which attorneys can gain their board certification as a specialist.
While each category of specialist has different extensive eligibility requirements, to be considered a board-certified specialist, generally speaking the requirements include:
- A minimum number of years practicing.
- Satisfactory peer and/or judicial review in their practice area for character, ethics, professionalism, and competence.
- Passing a written examination.
- Experience handling a set number of cases or matters.
The standard is rigorous and can be time consuming.
Who Oversees Board Certification?
There are 15 states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas) that certify attorneys in specific fields through their state bar associations.
There are also eight different national organizations that certify attorneys as specialists (National Board of Trial Advocated, National Association of Counsel for Children, The American Board of Certification, American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, International Association for Privacy Professionals, National Association of Estate Planners and Councils, National College of DUI Defense, Inc., and National Elder Law Foundation).
How Common is Board Certification?
Few attorneys in each state are board certified in their practice field – generally speaking less than 3-5%.
Clients today have endless options to meet their legal needs. Board certification is one way attorneys can demonstrate how well-versed they are in their practice and their dedication. It takes considerable time and effort to gain certification.
Most states have a rule of professional responsibility prohibiting an attorney from calling herself/himself a “specialist” unless they are officially board certified by one of the state or national associations set forth above.
While an attorney may have practiced many years, they cannot refer to themselves as a specialist without first completing the certification requirements.
You should know that I am not neutral on this topic. I have one board certification from the Minnesota State Bar Association (Civil Trial Specialist) and three from the National Board of Trial Advocated (Civil Practice Advocacy, Civil Trial Law, and Family Trial Law). I also serve on the Minnesota Board of Legal Certification. Board certification is good for the standards we should uphold in this noble profession, helpful to the attorney, and most importantly, beneficial to the client. We look for board-certified physicians when in need of care, board-certified mental health professionals to treat mental health conditions, and board-certified accountants to complete our taxes. Why wouldn’t clients expect the same in the legal profession.