Professionalism and ethics are often intertwined with competence for trial attorneys. Trial attorneys who are competent are often successful because of their professionalism and ethics. Their professionalism shows up in their tireless preparation for hearings, depositions, and trials. Their ethics are demonstrated by level of respect they have among their clients, former clients, peers and the courts. Competence can also be demonstrated by attaining Board Certification in a specialty practice area from an accredited certifying agency. Several states, including Texas where I practice, have their own board State Bar certification process for attorneys in different practice areas. In many states, the opportunity to become board certified is limited to the national certifying agencies for civil attorneys or professional liability attorneys.
As I began my career as an attorney working on only medical malpractice cases, it seemed like there were so many different attorneys practicing in so many different areas, it was hard to distinguish who the experienced and competent attorneys in any specialty were. This seemed to me to be especially practicing in a large urban area where there are a large number of personal injury attorneys. If that was my perspective as a young lawyer, I could only imagine what the general public was thinking about and confused about in searching for an attorney. While I was a young attorney, I would correspond by letters with defense lawyers and other trial attorneys about many different issues. In reading their letterhead, I would take note if an attorney was board certified. It suggested to me that they had some degree of experience and, at least took the time and effort to take and pass an exam that was not required to practice law. As the result of that, I once I became eligible to become board certified, it was important for me to attain that.
The experience that was required before I could sit for the board certification exam included practicing for five years, three of them with at least a substantial percentage in personal injury, and I needed to have completed, as first-chair attorney, a minimum of ten jury trials. Evaluations by attorneys I practiced against and judges who presided over my jury trials were also required. The board certification exam in Texas is a full day long exam.
After successfully completing the exam, I was able to hold myself out as being a specialist that included putting that statement on my letterhead, business cards and the like. It was a certification that had meaning and substance to me. It has been said that only 5% of the attorneys in the State of Texas are board certified. I could say I had special competence.
I have been board certified and re-certified for over ten years. The true benefits of being a board-certified attorney lead me to focus on it from five different perspectives. First, from my own critique and self-confidence, passing the board certification allowed me to feel confident that I did in fact have the requisite skills that allowed me to have become a specialist. While in my mind a certification did not in any way validate my confidence and my skills as an attorney, it did provide an objective means of assessing those skills, aside from success in trial verdicts and settlements I accomplished.
From the perspective of other attorneys I deal with, it adds an air of credibility. Whether I am dealing with other personal injury lawyers in networking situations or other social or political situations, the knowledge that the attorney is board certified certainly suggests that they have been through the wars and are committed to being a top professional. Extending that to defense attorneys, those that have achieved board certification often appreciate that there is a minimal level of competency and experience. In that the quotation of law or the filing of motions is not going to be inconsistent with the law or frivolous.
From the perspective of the court system, in arguments with the trial judges, the ability to state that you are board certified and have the knowledge base, adds to the authority in which the argument can be presented. It confirms that I know the procedure of the law, how the law is applied, what the gray areas of the law are, and that there is a reasonable basis for my position.