• Legal Specialization for Lawyers
  • November 4, 2009 | Author: Richard T. Meehan
  • Law Firm: Meehan, Meehan & Gavin, LLP - Bridgeport Office
  •  In 1994, 20 years after taking the bar examination, I applied for Board Certification as a criminal trial specialist with the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA). The process was involved. In order to qualify I had to prove the extent of my involvement as lead counsel in a substantial number of jury trials (fortunately they don’t ask for wins and losses). Peer references from judges before whom I practiced as well as lawyers against whom I tried cases together with proof of 45 hours of continuing legal education as well as a writing sample was also required. Finally one had to pass a written examination. The test lasted 6 hours, something I had not endured since the bar exam. Recertification is necessary every 5 years, with just as rigorous a review.

    As I write this I am now undergoing the process of seeking certification as a civil trial lawyer as well. While the number of Board certified lawyers in our state is growing, only three members of the Connecticut Bar presently possess certification in both criminal and civil trial law. I remember sitting for the exam in 1994 with a 2 year old that was up all night cutting teeth. Twenty years prior I had the same experience with his older brothers the night before the bar exam. Fortunately we have run out of teething children, so hopefully I can approach this upcoming exam on a full night’s sleep.

    Specialty certification has long been a hallmark of excellence in specific areas of medical and dental practice. It was a long time coming to the law but serves consumers well. With the advent of lawyer advertising, selecting a truly qualified trial advocate became a crapshoot. Traditionally, consumers found the better advocates through word of mouth and referral from the family lawyer. In 1977 the United States Supreme Court relaxed the ethical prohibition on lawyer advertising, citing that such restrictions violated the First Amendment. What followed was an explosion of TV, radio, and print ads. Busses and taxis extolled the prowess of countless lawyers, whose only real claim to expertise was the size of their advertising budget.

    That same year Bridgeport lawyer, Theodore Koskoff founded NBTA, dedicated to bettering the quality of trial advocacy and assisting consumers in finding experienced and highly qualified trial lawyers. The late Ted Koskoff was an icon of the bar, not only in this state but nationally as well, having established one of the country’s premier personal injury law firms. NBTA was housed, and fully supported by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America until its move to Boston in 1987. Specialty certification was available in the fields of civil and criminal trial practice. It later expanded to include family law and now social security disability law as well.

    NBTA has now changed its name to the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification and is accredited by the American Bar Association. Specialty certification is also now offered in social security disability law. Consumers can locate an attorney who has undergone this rigorous testing and approval process through the NBLSC website, http://www.nblsc.us.
     Specialty certification is not necessary to practice trial law, but is, required for a lawyer to advertise expertise in that field. There are many outstanding trial lawyers who have simply not taken the time or seen the need to obtain specialty certification. There is a growing national movement to require such certification, but it has not reached our state as yet. Consumers looking for the highest level of representation should at least search the NBLSC site for recommendations. Hopefully I’ll make this next cut as well.

    Richard T. Meehan, Jr., is a senior partner in the law firm of Meehan, Meehan & Gavin, LLP, Bridgeport, CT.  For more information on Mr. Meehan or his firm you can access them at www.meehanlaw.com or www.ctdentalmalpracticelawyer.com, or email him at [email protected].