What is a Certified Specialist?

civil trial specialists

The legal world is large; very few, if any, attorneys claim to practice every type of law that exists. (And if they do, you might want to keep in mind the adage: jack-of-all trades and master of none.) Instead, most lawyers concentrate on particular practice areas. If you visit an attorney’s website, you will likely see claims that they “specialize” in certain legal areas. But there is an important difference between claiming to specialize in a particular field and actually being a “certified specialist”, which requires the attorney meet the requirements of national agencies and/or their state regulatory commission.

When John was certified as specialists, certification was a two-step process. First, the attorney had to apply and be accepted as a specialist by the relevant national agency. This was and remains an arduous process.

Civil trial specialists, for example, must apply with the National Board of Trial Advocacy, which imposes high standards to become a specialist. The attorney must:

  • Be in good standing in his state;
  • Show that he has been highly involved in civil trial work, demonstrating that he has extensive experience with actually trying cases in front of a jury, questioning lay and expert witnesses, delivering opening or closing statements, and/or otherwise participating in contested civil matters;
  • Participate in appropriate continuing education classes;
  • Submit numerous references, including references from judges and other attorneys;
  • Pass a written examination;
  • Submit an example of the attorney’s written work product.

Even after meeting this high bar and getting initial certification, a civil trial specialist must be re-certified every five years. Though the exact requirements imposed by certifying agencies vary, each require a high level of experience and competency within the relevant field.

Once a Tennessee attorney had been certified as a specialist by the correct agency, he or she had to also apply with the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization. The lawyer was required to take additional steps, including obtaining client references and ensuring that his practice is run according to certain standards, before he could hold himself out as a certified specialist in Tennessee.

In January of 2015, the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education stopped independently certifying specialists and instead now simply maintains a roll of certified specialists on their website.

Why does a certified specialization matter?

While many good lawyers in Tennessee are not certified specialists, a certification does speak to the lawyer’s experience. If a lawyer has been certified as a civil trial specialist, you can rely on the fact that he has actual, extensive courtroom experience in a trial, something that many lawyers now lack as fewer and fewer cases go to trial. Board certification also means the attorney was positively recommended by judges, other lawyers, and former clients.

If a lawyer is not certified, on the other hand, you have no real way to verify his experience level or recommendations. While he may be a good attorney, he may not have had sufficient trial experience to be certified as a civil trial specialist, or may not have handled enough cases in the relevant field to meet the necessary requirements for certified specialization.

John Day is a certified civil trial specialist and also certified in the separate area of medical malpractice. Our office’s experience and expertise will allow us to thoroughly review your case, advising you of your rights and any claims you may have. If you would like a free, no-obligation consultation, call us at 615-742-4880 or toll-free at 866.812.8787. We handle all accident cases on a contingency basis which means we only get paid if we recover money for you.

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