Should Attorneys Become Specialists?

A minority of states allow lawyers to hold themselves out as specialists in their area of practice. Some states offer State Entities Accrediting and some allow Private Certification.

A lawyer who holds himself or herself out as a generalist has a certain level of skills in several areas of the law. That lawyer might take a family law case in the morning and a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the afternoon. Then, the next day he or she might go close on the sale of an existing home for clients in morning, and the purchase of a new home for the same clients in the afternoon. This is common in areas where there are a limited number of lawyers to help clients with the varied number of services. If something arises outside of the three or four areas that the lawyer practices in, the client is ordinarily referred out to another lawyer. This is especially true in litigation when specific experience, skills and knowledge are required.

What is a Specialist?

A specialist has carved out unique knowledge and skill in a specific area of the law, and that will likely be the only area that they practice in.

There are two qualities that all specialist lawyers possess.

  1. First is a highly technical education and intimate knowledge of the subject matter.
  2. Accreditation is needed for one to hold himself or herself out as a specialist.

Typically, accreditation requires five years of practice, and another three years in their area of specialization, letters from peers in support of their specialization and an exam lasting six hours. Re-certification is typically required in five years.

A specialist is likely to charge a client more money too, but he or she might be worth every penny of their knowledge and experience.

State Sponsored Legal Specialist Certification:

States that certify legal specialists are slowly growing. To date though, only 14 states recognize legal specialists in various legal practices. Any such lawyer must be licensed in the state certifying him or her. Those states are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas.

State Entities Accrediting or Approving Private Certification:

There are also privately certified specialists that are recognized by various states.

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Specialization certifies 18 specialty certification programs that are offered by 8 private organizations.

A lawyer might be certified by a particular organization as a specialist, but not by a particular state. The general rule though is that a lawyer cannot hold himself or herself out as a specialist unless he or she is state certified as such. In the world of lawyers though, that rule is easily avoided. The lawyer merely makes it clear that they’re certified as a specialist by the accrediting organization, and not the specific state.

The Benefits of Being Certified as a Specialist:

Becoming a board certified specialist is a sign of superior legal skills and proficiency in a subject area of law. By retaining a certified legal specialist to represent you, you’re confident that your attorney is an authority in the legal field for which you have a need. A specific area of law might be highly technical and require a vast base of knowledge about a wide variety of legal expertise that only a specialist can deliver.

Only a small minority of attorneys are certified as specialists. Only about 1% of all lawyers maintain board certification. Being certified as a specialist provides the client with a complete understanding of the lawyer’s level of competence and standing. They exceed the minimum requirements be far, and they’re acknowledged as leaders in their field in the practice of law. They’re the best of the best.

Strict Legal Requirements:

Legal specialization is generally available through the American Bar Association in more than 18 areas of the law like immigration, criminal, patent, trademark, copyright, family law, bankruptcy, aviation, estate planning oil, gas and mineral law and others.

Becoming a certified legal specialist is like passing a second, more rigorous bar exam with re-certification every five years. Only lawyers who meet these strict legal requirements are allowed to hold themselves out as specialists. They take great pride in their awareness of current changes in the law along with legislative initiatives. Potential clients can use the board certified designation to narrow down the list of otherwise uncertified or otherwise unqualified lawyers.

You get what you pay for, and qualifications matter. If you’re in a highly specialized area of practice, it’s probably in the best interests of both you and your clients to become board certified. Check with your state to determine if holding yourself out as a specialist is even permitted. If it is, check next with the American Bar Association, and find out if there is a certification program for that area of law. You might have the best of both worlds.