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What’s It Mean When a Lawyer Is ‘Board Certified’?

You hear it a lot in advertising, but does the credential matter?
illustration by Ricky Ferrer

Whether you’re facing a crisis that calls for a top-notch attorney or merely need a bit of legal advice, it’s natural to want to make sure you’re getting the most for your money. And while there’s no surefire way to find the perfect attorney to fit your needs, the Texas Board of Legal Specialization was created with the goal of making it easier for clients to match up with lawyers at the top of their field.

The TBLS recognizes attorneys from a broad range of 21 areas of law, from immigration issues to estate planning to criminal trials. Every board-certified attorney must pass some general requirements — e.g., a minimum of five years of legal practice, with at least three consecutive years in Texas — as well as other requisites specific to their given area of specialty. For example, an attorney who is board certified in family law must have dedicated at least 35 percent of his practice to the field over the previous three years, meet minimum case requirements set out by the TBLS, and provide the names of five references to an advisory committee, which votes on the applicant’s credentials. Approved applicants then must pass a daylong exam that tests their knowledge in their area of specialty, and maintain their certification with periodic peer references.

The TBLS reports that only about 10 percent of the some 70,000 lawyers in Texas are board-certified, and its online attorney directory makes it simple to find a board-certified lawyer to fit your circumstances. Though certification doesn’t guarantee a good outcome to your case — and a lack of certification certainly doesn’t mean a lawyer isn’t worth your time — knowing that you have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney on your side can ease your mind in the courtroom.

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