The terms specialize or expert are not to be taken lightly when you are an attorney. Specifically Florida Bar Rule 4-7.14 deals with using those words when advertising. Rule 4-7.14 is titled Potentially Misleading Advertisements and states under (a)(4) that Potentially misleading advertisements include advertisements that include a statement that a lawyer is board certified, a specialist, an expert, or other variations of those terms.
What does that mean in plain English? It means that an attorney is not a specialist or expert in any particular field unless the Florida Bar has certified them in the area. It does not matter if they practice exclusively in the field or if they have practiced exclusively in the field for 100 years. It also means that if an attorney advertises in any form or fashion that they are an expert or that they specialize in the field they are violating the rules of ethics provided by the Florida Bar and could be subject to punishment from the Florida Bar.
The real reason this is important. It gives potential clients guidance as to who really is an expert and who just says they are. The Florida Bar, as well as Florida Bar recognized organizations, have very thorough processes by which they determine who may and who may not call themselves and expert in any particular field. If not for this rule every attorney would call themselves a specialist in any field they choose.
In order to be board certified there are many hoops that an attorney must jump through and many requirements that must be met. You may ask, “how do you know?” I just did it. It took over ten months to finally get through all of the requirements, and as of the date of this post I still am not a specialist because I have to now go through another process to get it on my Florida Bar records, not to mention Texas Bar, DC Bar, and Tennessee Bar.
What are some of the requirements to become board certified? One of the requirements is sitting for a full day exam regarding the specialty you are attempting to get certified in. Another requirement is going through hundreds if not thousands of your cases and disclosing particular litigation issues and opposing counsel information, not to mention personal and professional references. The board actually reaches out to every last one of them for response.
So next time you are looking for an attorney in any field and see the term specialist or expert. Do a little digging to make sure you are getting what that claim you are getting. The Florida Bar and other bar associations keep a record of who is actually board certified. In a world of banner ads that disappear in a click it is hard to know who is claiming to be a specialist and who really is a specialist.
Jason A. Burgess