What does it mean when an attorney is Board Certified?

In 1974 the Supreme Court of Texas, recognized that the practice of law had become so specialized, that the old fashioned Texas general practitioner could no longer keep themselves properly up to date with all the changes in the field of law, the Supreme Court appointed a committee to study its concerns. The objective was to help people needing legal representation for a specific problem to be able to find an attorney who possessed special competence in that area. The Court decided that Texas should recognize areas of specialization and that they should be regulated. It formed the Texas Board of Legal Specialization to set the standards for certification.

We are all too familiar with seeing or hearing ads on television or radio, urging potential viewers to call the attorney to help you recover money for injuries or injustices you may have suffered. The attorney claims to have your best interest at heart – some even offer to visit you in the hospital or represent that the attorney does not get paid until you collect. The ads may include individuals singing praises over what is proclaimed to be generous awards. Often, in very small print or spoken impossibly fast, you will then hear, “Not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.” This does not mean, as some may think, that the attorney is not licensed. The attorney may well be licensed to practice any type of law throughout the state. Other solicitations may identify that a particular attorney is Board Certified. Why is this so important?

Board Certified is not mandatory in the state of Texas. Attorneys who have become Board Certified means they voluntarily decide to become specialized. Only a little more than ten percent of Texas attorneys are Board Certified. Because the Texas program is nationally recognized as one of the most outstanding legal specialization programs in the country, many states send representatives to Austin for help in setting up their own specialization programs.

To become board certified in one of the eighteen recognized fields, an attorney must have been practicing law in Texas full-time for five years. In addition, that attorney must have practiced in the specialized area for at least three years and devote a certain percentage of his practice to that area.

The candidate for certification must also provide the Board with the names of judges and attorneys who are familiar with the attorney and his actual experience in that area. The Board may also go to other judges and lawyers to obtain more information about the candidate. The attorney applying for Board Certification must have completed sixty hours of approved Continuing Legal Education courses in the area of specialization within a prescribed time period. And finally, and most important of all, the candidate must pass a rigorous six hour examination to demonstrate his knowledge of the law in that specialty. Successful candidates are certified for five years.

Like Board Certified Medical Specialists, Board Certified Attorneys are not expected to be infallible. The Supreme Court only wants the attorney to demonstrate “special competence” in the selected area. The purpose of Board Certification is to help the public find an attorney who is experienced in tax matters, bankruptcy, personal injury, or any of the other recognized areas of specialization.

Even after an attorney receives a certificate of special competence, he must reapply every five years for recertification. While no exam is required, the attorney must attend at least 100 hours of Continuing Legal Education in that particular field and submit the names of judges and attorneys who are familiar with him in his field of specialization. The applicant for recertification must attest that he devoted a minimum percentage of his total practice to the specialty in each of the past five years. The disclaimer in the ads is to prevent the public from assuming that a non-certified attorney is certified just because he practices a particular specialty. With the rigorous requirements to become certified, it is easy to see why the Texas program of specialization is so esteemed throughout the nation. Attorneys who fulfill the requirements have demonstrated an exceptionally high level of dedication and competence in their clients’ representation.

Contingency versus hourly fee?

Attorneys are usually paid either on a hourly fee arrangement or on contingency. When an attorney is paid hourly, the client is usually expected to pay a certain amount of money up front, called a retainer, which is held in trust by the attorney who bills against the retainer trust account. The client may be required to deposit additional funds as the case proceeds. If the attorney is operating under a contingency agreement, then there is usually not a retainer and the client normally is not required to come up with any monetary funds. The attorney is paid based upon the amount recovered, which fees usually vary between 25 - 50 % of the gross recovery based upon several different factors. Most personal injury cases are handled on a contingency theory and there can also be hybrids of both arrangements. Remember however, there are certain types of cases which the State of Texas does not allow the lawyer to be compensated on a contingency basis such as in family law and criminal cases. At The Law Offices of David P. Petersen, P.C. in Houston, Texas, cases are accepted on both types of arrangements.

What will the attorney do for me?

By hiring an attorney to represent your legal rights, you receive more than just simply representation of your case. At The Law Offices of David P. Petersen, P.C., we have learned that our clients receive satisfaction simply being able to lateral off the unknown aspects of their claim. Lack of knowledge and understanding causes uncertainly, anxiety and fear. By having a competent attorney handle your case, you are able to spend your time as you please without the constant stress of dealing with the insurance companies antics or trying to figure out what to do before your next deadline.

How long will my case take to finish?

A civil case requiring litigation take approximately 2-3 years to complete while non-litigation cases are usually resolved within 1-2 years. There is no precise formula to determine with any certainty the amount of time a case will take as there are many factors outside the attorney’s control. Some cases take longer than other similar cases simply due to matters beyond the attorney’s control such as the court’s trial docket, potential for appeals or by actions of the opposing parties. Although the amount of time necessary to properly and thoroughly resolve a particular civil matter does not lend itself to a precise formula, based upon experience we can provide some parameters.

Many cases are resolved without any necessity of filing a lawsuit. In such cases, clients can expect their cases to be resolved in a timely manner, usually within a few months after being released from their medical providers after reaching MMI, maximum medical improvement. It has always been our policy when time allows, to provide the opposing side the opportunity to resolve our client’s losses prior to filing a lawsuit. In the event the opposing interests are not willing to negotiate in good faith or attempt to reach a fair and impartial settlement prior to a lawsuit being filed, your only remedy is by filing your complaint with the court having jurisdiction over your case. In those cases which require litigation, there are several factors which effect the final resolution of a case, including the level of discovery, number of parties, court’s trial docket, however, most cases are usually resolved within 2 years from the date of original filing.