by Steven B. Lesser, as seen in The Miami Herald on 8/28/2022
Find a Board Certified Lawyer
*The ABA does not confer board certification to lawyers. The ABA accredits lawyer certification programs.
Board certified lawyers go above and beyond, bringing specialized expertise and skills to address your legal need.
Board Certification Basics
A quick glance through the listings of attorneys in any major metropolitan area will make it clear that many lawyers specialize in one or more kinds of legal matters. Like other professionals, many lawyers concentrate their practices to certain fields of law. In fact, most specialize to some degree by limiting the range of matters they handle.
An increasing number of lawyers are choosing to be recognized as having special knowledge and experience by becoming certified specialists in certain fields of law. Lawyers who are certified as specialists have been recognized by independent professional certifying organizations as having an enhanced level of skill, as well as substantial involvement in established legal specialty areas. Certifying organizations require lawyers to demonstrate special training, experience and knowledge to ensure that recognition as a certified specialist is meaningful and reliable.
Specialty certification programs available to lawyers are growing both in numbers and variety. In 1993, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted a set of voluntary national standards, along with a set of procedures to accredit specialty certification programs. The standards were designed to establish reasonable and valid criteria to accredit programs that grant specialty certification to qualified lawyers and to provide state authorities with a basis for approving programs which seek recognition in their jurisdictions.
Board certified lawyers have been evaluated by an independent state or national certification body.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is ABA accreditation and what does it mean?
Organizations that certify lawyers in a particular legal specialty area may apply to the ABA for accreditation of their program. The organization must demonstrate that the program is in compliance with the Standards for Accreditation of Specialty Certification Programs for Lawyers. The program must require lawyers to have a substantial involvement in the area of law, be reviewed by peers, pass written examinations, take additional continuing education in their area of law and be admitted to practice and in good standing in a particular state or territory of the US.
What steps have board certified lawyers gone through to become certified in their legal specialty area?
Board certified lawyers must:
- Provide evidence of substantial involvement in the legal specialty area
- Provide references from lawyers and judges.
- Pass a written examination covering the substantive and procedural law in the specialty area.
- Demonstrate completion of at least 36 hours of continuing legal education courses in the specialty area in the three-year period proceeding the lawyer's application for certification.
- Be admitted to practice in one or more states and be a members in good standing; and
- Be re-certified at least every five years and be subject to revocation or certification if they fail to meet program requirements.
What qualifications do board-certified lawyers have?
Board certified lawyers have met the requirements for certification set out by the state or national certifying organization. These requirements likely include at least 25% of the lawyers’ practice focused on that legal area, peer review by several lawyers or judges familiar with the practice area and lawyer, passage of an extensive written examinations, continuing education beyond what is normally required by licensed attorneys and admittance to practice and in good standing in a US state or territory.
Where can I find a board-certified lawyer?
Directories of board-certified lawyers can be found on the websites of each national certifying organization that certifies attorneys in that legal specialty area. States that certify lawyers also have listings of board-certified lawyers on their websites. The Standing Committee website includes links to each private national certifying organizations and state entities that certify lawyers.
In which legal specialty areas can lawyers become board-certified?
Are lawyers required to be board certified?
No. Each state and jurisdiction has specific requirements for a lawyer to practice law in that state or jurisdiction. Board certified lawyers have voluntarily sought to expand their knowledge and expertise by pursing and maintaining board certification.
Why are more lawyers not board-certified?
Becoming Board Certified requires a substantial committment of time, money and effort beyond the standard requirements to practice law. In addition, board certification did not become an established option for lawyers until the mid-1970s and the ABA did not start accrediting programs until the early 1990s. The public is still learning about the benefits of hiring a board certified lawyer.
The ABA Standing Committee on Specialization has compiled this guide primarily to help legal specialty groups explore the development of lawyer specialist certification programs. However, we hope it will also be useful to bar groups, the courts, individual lawyers and consumers in understanding the role of board certification in enhancing the professional credentials of lawyers and making available to the public information on the sources of specialized legal services.
Board certified lawyers are highly qualified and dedicated to providing outstanding legal services for their clients.