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Texas Board of Legal Specialization Round

Leo FigueroaLeo Figueroa is executive director of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS)  and he recently spoke about the importance of Board Certification on a State Bar of Texas Podcast.

Attorney Jacob Blizzard is the managing partner of Blizzard and Zimmerman Attorneys and he’s one of only 87 attorneys out of 100,000 attorneys in the entire state of Texas who is dual Texas Board of Legal Specialization Certified in both Criminal Law and Criminal Appeal law.

He regularly practices in the areas of Texas state and federal criminal defense, criminal appeals, post-conviction writs of habeas corpus.

In Texas, there are more than 100,000 attorneys licensed to practice, but only 7,450 are board certified as of the 2019 certification year.

The following are excerpts from his interview with host Rocky Dhir, CEO of Atlas Legal Research.

What exactly does board certification mean?

Rocky Dhir:

What exactly does board certification mean? Why might it be important to be board certified?  Since 2016, Leo Figueroa has served as the executive director of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, TBLS for short.

Before that, Leo practiced law for 32 years in San Antonio.

So, what is the Texas Board of Legal Specialization? What exactly is it and what does it do?

Leo Figueroa:

TBLS was established by the Supreme Court of Texas at the request of the State Bar of Texas back in 1974, and our mission is directed by the Supreme Court is to promote the availability, accessibility, and quality of the services of attorneys to the public in particular areas of the law and to raise the standards of the legal profession. And we certify lawyers in 25 specialty areas and paralegals in eight specialty areas. With both of them, we’re looking for their substantial, relevant experience in select areas of law and whether or not they’ve completed the requisite number of CLE hours in the specialty areas and then passed a rigorous certification exam.

How does this affect attorney clients?

Rocky Dhir:

Let’s talk about this issue of how it affects clients because I’m trying to think of the typical non-lawyer who walks into a lawyer’s office or is looking for help in a particular area. Do non-lawyers really understand what board certification means?

Leo Figueroa:

A couple of things and the studies that I’ve seen haven’t been done here in Texas, but they’ve been done in other states.

And those studies have shown that members of the public when shown two attorneys for possible hiring of those attorneys.

The overwhelming majority of those people in those studies chose the board-certified attorney.

There’s something about just the language of being board certified that instills confidence in potential clients.

The thing that I always liken it to, although there are certainly differences, is if you need to have your knee replaced, you’re going to go to a board-certified orthopedic surgeon.

They hear the concept of board certification oftentimes in the medical context, and I think that is one of the things that entice clients to go to a board-certified attorney.

But the other thing is, as I indicated at the beginning, board certification is an independent and objective validation of an attorney’s ability in a specific area.

So, it’s not a popularity contest. It’s not just the attorney touting their own bona fides regarding their experience. TBLS is an independent, objective measure of whether someone has the requisite degree of experience, knowledge, skill, respect, and knowledge of the law.

And we provide attorneys with that information to be able to market that independent validation of their expertise.

(To test to become Board Certified) There are certain general requirements that cover all of the (legal) specialty areas.

The first, obviously is that the attorney has substantial, relevant experience in the specialty area for the requisite period of time in most cases, and most specialty areas that is having that minimum substantial involvement percentage in the specific area of law in the three years immediately preceding application.

They also have to have 60 hours of CLE (Continuing Legal Education) in the specialty area immediately in the three years immediately preceding the application.

Rocky Dhir:

60 hours. So that goes beyond your minimum requirements for —

Leo Figueroa:

Under the Texas state bar rules you’ve got to have 15 hours of CLE (Continuing Legal Education) each year but it doesn’t have to be in any particular area.

Rocky Dhir:

Right. But if you want to do this then you have to get more than just the 15, you’d have to get if you’re going to do it over three-year period it’s at least 20 hours along with your ethics and everything else. This is a significant CLE commitment.

Leo Figueroa:

It is, but I can tell you from experience it is well worth it because if you are practicing in a particular area you want to know as much as you can about the relevant case law, statutory law changes, so on and so forth that can help you navigate cases or matters in that specialty area all to the benefit of your client.

What testing is involved?

Rocky Dhir:

Let’s talk about this exam, this testing because I thought the bar exam was the last test I’d ever have to take.

But now you’re telling me if I want to get board certified, there’s a test involved. Tell us about that.

Leo Figueroa:

There is and it’s a rigorous test. And perhaps the best way to talk about that is the exam.

And it’s a six-hour exam, three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon. The three-hour exam in the morning consists of three essays. The afternoon is 100 multiple choice questions.

We have in each of the 25 specialty areas, board-certified attorneys in the specialty area that draft the exam.

So, they draft the essays.  They draft multiple choice questions. And those exam Commission members grade the essays, grade them anonymously. They don’t know whose essay they’re grading.

And the multiple-choice questions, as you might expect, are computer graded. And we provide exam specifications to those that are approved to sit for the exam. That gives them a framework of the topics that very well may be covered on the exam. And it helps examinees study for the exam as well.

Board certification certifies attorneys have a special expertise.

Rocky Dhir:

Does a lawyer have to be board certified in order to say that he or she “specializes” in a particular area of law?

Leo Figueroa:

Rocky, this is covered in rules 7.1 and 7.2 of the Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

And basically, what that says is number one, lawyers, whatever they do in terms of communicating their practice and advertising that practice has to be truthful. And there can’t be anything fault in that communication.

Secondly, a lawyer, if you’ve got a law license, you can practice in whatever field you want to, and they’re free to do that. They don’t have to be board certified.

Thirdly, in order, a lawyer cannot say that they are board certified or that they are a member of an organization that the name of, which implies that they have special expertise unless they’re board certified by TBLS or by an organization accredited by TBLS.

All that being said, the disciplinary rules that I just mentioned, a lawyer is certainly free to say I concentrate my practice in this particular area, criminal law. I devote 100% of my time to criminal law. I’m a great lawyer in criminal law. They can say all of those things, but they can’t say that they’re board certified or a member of an organization, as I indicated, that the name of which implies that they have special expertise.

Podcast and Transcript

The complete podcast along with the transcript is available at https://legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/state-bar-texas/2022/05/demystifying-board-certification-for-texas-lawyers/

More information on this interview is available at https://legaltalknetwork.com. The podcast is available along with others at https://texasbar.com/podcast .

The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by the State Bar of Texas, Legal Talk Network or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.

Blizzard and Zimmerman Attorneys Abilene Texas