“Board certified” is one of those terms that sound good. But unless you’re very familiar with the legal profession, your eyes will skim over the term uncomprehendingly when you read it on a website or an attorney’s business card. So what does it mean to be a board-certified attorney? And why should you, the consumer, care?
A Voluntary Program
Unlike passing the bar exam, attorneys do not have to be board-certified in order to practice law. Instead, this certification is a way of voluntarily going above and beyond the legal requirements because they care about giving their clients the best representation possible.
To get the initial five-year certification, an attorney must have:
- Been licensed to practice law for five or more years
- Broad experience working in the certification area
- Spent a certain percentage of practice in the chosen specialty area for three or more years
- Passed an evaluation by judges and fellow lawyers
- Fulfilled continuing education requirements
- Obtained a passing grade on a written examination
Of the more than 70,000 attorneys licensed to practice in Texas, only about 3 percent are board-certified.
The board certification in personal injury trial law requires that the applicant participate in at least 10 jury trials. It is very important to ask any lawyer that you may want to hire how many jury trials they have participated in, and when was the last time they picked a jury.
A Little Texas Legal History
How did Texas initiate this system? Back in 1974 the Supreme Court of Texas appointed a committee to investigate legal specialization. By that time, law had become so complicated and specialized that a one-size-fits-all lawyer was becoming a thing of the past. The court determined that the best way to help people get appropriate, informed legal counsel was for lawyers to be recognized for their specialties. In the past few decades, Texas has become an example to other states setting up legal specialization programs.
Attorneys can specialize in 21 different areas. Some are smaller niche areas of law, such as juvenile or health law. Others, like personal injury trial law, are areas where attorneys try many cases. Specialists who want to get certified inpersonal injury trial law must demonstrate their experience and expertise with such issues as medical malpractice, car accidents, negligence and defective products. They must also have experience in jury trials.
Keeping Up to Date
Passing the 6-hour certification exam doesn’t mean study time is over. Instead, board-certified lawyers must keep up with 100 hours of approved continuing education every five years. Applicants for recertification must be able to document that they’re still devoting the required percentage of their practice to their specialty. They may also be required to give references, such as judges or other lawyers. Attorneys must also report any disciplinary action taken against them to the board. Board-certified attorneys are required to demonstrate substantial involvement in the legal community.
So for experience, know-how, wisdom and dedication, you can’t beat a board-certified attorney.