Are you a generalist or a specialist?
Chances are you “specialize” in a particular area of law. But unless you’re board certified, your state’s rules of ethics likely don’t allow you to call yourself a specialist.
Many lawyers focus on an area of practice where they can develop a certain level of expertise. It’s natural to gravitate toward a practice area that holds a special interest for you or that allows you to use your innate talents and abilities – or for which there’s a particularly high level of client demand.
Plus, focusing on a particular practice area makes it easier to develop the level of knowledge and experience you need to serve your clients with confidence and authority.
But here’s an interesting statistic: nationwide, fewer than 4% of attorneys are board certified.
If so many attorneys choose a specific practice area to focus on, why do so few take the next step and become board certified?
There are a couple of reasons.
First, board certification for attorneys is a relatively new concept. Until fairly recently, the legal profession was a profession of generalists. Specialty certification of attorneys did not start until the 1970’s, and the ABA did not accredit the first attorney certification board – the National Board of Trial Advocacy – until 1993.
Second, and probably more significant, becoming board certified is difficult. It takes time and effort, and it can be expensive. To become board certified, an attorney must:
- Devote a large percentage of his or her legal practice to the area of law in question
- Have a substantial amount of experience in that area
- Maintain a substantial amount of continuing legal education credits in that area
- Submit to a peer review and recommendation process
- Pass a written examination
- Maintain a high degree of professionalism
- Meet additional requirements as determined by individual certification boards
Becoming board certified is not an easy process. But think about what it says to your clients when they see that designation after your name. It lets them know that you’re dedicated to your practice. You’re an expert in your field. You’re serious about taking care of your clients. You’re well-regarded by other lawyers. In short, it gives clients that added boost of confidence that they’re in good hands.
What do you think about board certification? Are you board certified? Has it made a difference in your practice?
Director, Member Services, Marketing & Recruiting
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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