A certified specialist* in California is akin to a board certified physician. It provides assurance a lawyer has met basic standards establishing competence to handle matters in a field of law.
Under California law, any lawyer is allowed to claim to be a specialist in any field, with no training or experience in the area of law. If you claim to be a certified specialist, you must identify the certifying agency or group. Only the Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of California has any significance as a certifying body in this state.
There are more than 150 lawyers in San Diego County [and 1100 statewide] who have been certified as Specialists in Family Law, by the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization. Our county has one of the most successful certification programs, with most competent, experienced family lawyers having chosen to become specialists. The program began in 1980 - there are now about 30 in North County.
With so many to choose from, there is little reason to choose a lawyer not a certified specialist, whether you view your problem as simple or complicated. And, if you do hire a certified specialist, ask if he or she is the person who will be making the important court appearances on your behalf, participating in settlement meetings, and making the significant decisions along the way.
While any lawyer may legally claim to be a specialist in any field of law [even with no training or experience], a certified specialist* must meet stringent standards.
In addition to annual educational requirements in his or her field of specialization, a certified specialist* must have completed a rigorous examination, met minimum experience requirements, completed 54 hours of high level classes, and been the subject of peer review by lawyers and judges - he or she must re-certify every 5 years to ensure they maintain their competence.
Lawyers are only required to have about 9 hours of general legal education to maintain their licenses. In addition to some general education, certified specialist* must have an average of 12 hours per year of classes tailored to their field, alone - most do far more than that, just to keep current.
These requirements are not difficult to achieve, and set certified specialists apart from other lawyers practicing in their field
While no guaranty of the quality of service, certification shows the attorney has devoted substantial effort to the field, has met a minimum level of competence, and must abreast of changes in Family Law. Completing the educational requirements and passing the "specialist's exam" requires a time and financial commitment many lawyers are not willing to make, especially those who are only casually involved in the field.
While any organization may "certify" it's members, only certification by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization is recognized as conferring legitimacy on the use of the term in California.
The State Bar certification program also includes Bankuptcy, Criminal Law, Probate and Estate Planning, Appellate Procedure, Taxation, Immigration, Worker's Compensation, and several other small specialties.