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What Is a Texas Board Certified Attorney
Author: Robert Hohenberger
You have seen the ads on TV, on billboards, and on the radio. You are urged to call an attorney or law firm that will help you recover money for injuries or injustices you may have suffered. The attorney claims to have your best interest at heart - he'll even visit you in the hospital and he does not get paid until you collect. Satisfied clients sing praises for their generous awards. Often, in very small print or spoken impossibly fast, you will then hear, "Not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization."
This does not mean, as some may think, that the attorney is not licensed. The attorney is licensed to practice law and can legally practice any type of law there is. Sometimes these solicitations boldly state that the attorney is Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in a particular area. Why is this so important?
In 1974 the Supreme Court of Texas, realizing that the practice of law had become so specialized to the point that the old fashioned Texas general practitioner could no longer keep informed about all the new fields of law, much less practice law in every required field, appointed a committee to study its concerns. The objective was to help people seeking legal counsel for a specific problem find an attorney who possessed special competence in that area. The Court decided that Texas should recognize areas of specialization and that they should be regulated. It formed the Texas Board of Legal Specialization to set the standards for certification.
Texas attorneys voluntarily decide to become specialized. Only a little more than ten percent of Texas attorneys are Board Certified. Because the Texas program is nationally recognized as one of the most outstanding legal specialization programs in the country, many states send representatives to Austin for help in setting up their own specialization programs.
To become board certified in one of the eighteen recognized fields, an attorney must have been practicing law in Texas full-time for five years. In addition, that attorney must have practiced in the specialized area for at least three years and devote a certain percentage of his practice to that area.
The candidate for certification must also provide the Board with the names of judges and attorneys who are familiar with the attorney and his actual experience in that area. The Board may also go to other judges and lawyers to obtain more information about the candidate. The attorney applying for Board Certification must have completed sixty hours of approved Continuing Legal Education courses in the area of specialization within a prescribed time period. And finally, and most important of all, the candidate must pass a rigorous six hour examination to demonstrate his knowledge of the law in that specialty. Successful candidates are certified for five years.
Like Board Certified Medical Specialists, Board Certified Attorneys are not expected to be infallible. The Supreme Court only wants the attorney to demonstrate "special competence" in the selected area. The purpose of Board Certification is to help the public find an attorney who is experienced in tax matters, bankruptcy, personal injury, or any of the other recognized areas of specialization.
Even after an attorney receives a certificate of special competence, he must reapply every five years for recertification. While no exam is required, the attorney must attend at least 100 hours of Continuing Legal Education in that particular field and submit the names of judges and attorneys who are familiar with him in his field of specialization. The applicant for recertification must attest that he devoted a minimum percentage of his total practice to the specialty in each of the past five years. If any disciplinary action is taken against an attorney, he must report it immediately to the Board.
The disclaimer in the ads is to prevent the public from assuming that a non-certified attorney is certified just because he practices a particular specialty. With the rigorous requirements to become certified, it is easy to see why the Texas program of specialization is so esteemed throughout the nation. Attorneys who fulfill the requirements have demonstrated an exceptionally high level of dedication and competence in their field. They are entitled to be recognized for their achievement.