Specialization

The Supreme Court of Alabama approved the Alabama State Bar Rules of Specialization to be effective January 1, 1994.

The central message of this program is quite simple: Certification validates the lawyer’s specialty:

  • Through testing and peer review, certification verifies the lawyer’s qualifications
  • Discerning clients increasingly expect proven credentials
  • Certification eases the match of the client’s needs with the lawyer’s qualifications.

One of the most frequently asked questions is “How can I communicate my specialty practice field to the public?”

Rule 7.4, Rules of Professional Conduct, allows a lawyer to communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in a particular field of law.

Rule 7.4 prohibits a lawyer from stating or implying that the lawyer is a specialist except:

  1. a lawyer admitted to engage in patent practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office may use the designation “Patent Attorney” or a substantially similar designation;
  2. a lawyer engaged in admiralty practice may use the designation “Admiralty,” “Proctor in Admiralty.” Or substantially similar designation; or
  3. a lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer has been certified as a specialist is a field of law by a named organization or authority, but only if such certification is granted by an organization previously approved by the Alabama State Bar Board of Legal Certification to grant such certifications.

What organizations are approved by the Alabama State Bar Board of Legal Certification to grant certifications?

The Alabama State Bar Board of Legal Certification has currently approved eight national certifying agencies in 12 fields of law. If you are interested in learning more about the process to become a specialist in Alabama in one of the following eight fields, contact the certifying agency for additional information. For a current list of certifying organizations, click here.

The commentary to the Rules of Professional Conduct summarizes what a lawyer may do.

Paragraph (c) of Rule 7.4:

provides for certification as a specialist in a field of law where the Alabama State Bar Board of Legal Specialization has granted an organization the right to grant certification. Certification procedures imply than an objective entity has recognized a lawyer’s higher degree of specialized ability than is suggested by general licensure to practice law. Those objective entities may be expected to apply standards of competence, experience, and knowledge to insure that a lawyer’s recognition as a specialist is meaningful and reliable. In order to insure that consumers can obtain access to useful information about an organization granting certification, the name of the certifying organization or agency must be included in any communication regarding certification.