Board Certification for Trial Lawyers

Q. What does it mean when a lawyer is “board certified?”

A.  Just like doctors can be “board-certified” in surgery or pediatrics or a large number of specialties, lawyers can choose to seek board certification in several different areas in the law.

There are several civil trial certifications available in Tennessee – civil trial specialist, medical malpractice, legal malpractice and family. A civil trial specialist must (a) have a demonstrated level of experience in trying civil cases; (b) pass a written examination  that covers certain aspects of civil law, evidence, and ethics; (c) receive positive recommendations from judges and attorneys that he or she has tried cases against; (d) have a good  disciplinary history.  The attorney applies for civil trial and family trial certification with the National Board of Trial  Advocacy, a division of the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification.  Medical and legal trial certification is available from another group.

If a Tennessee attorney is certified by this group, the attorney must then apply to the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization Commission for certification in Tennessee.   The Tennessee Commission imposes additional requirements, including professional liability insurance and client recommendations. 

Lawyers certified in civil trial practice must be re-certified every five years.

A lawyer who has attained board certification has demonstrated that they meet or exceed the requirements for certification.  Many lawyers do not have sufficient trial experience to become certified as civil trial specialists.  Others may not be able to pass the examination or gain appropriate recommendations.   Board certification is one way a consumer can get a solid idea of the lawyer’s experience, competence, and standing in the legal community. 

In conclusion, the fact that a lawyer is not board certified does not mean that the lawyer is not a good lawyer.   There are very few civil jury trials in Tennessee in any year and it is difficult for a lawyer to gain the requisite experience to become board-certified.  However, the f act that a lawyer is not board certified, particularly one who has been practicing more than 15 years, may indicate that the lawyer lacks experience in the trial of civil cases.