Board Certified Civil Trial Attorneys: Are They All Experts?

Board Certification is admirable; it is evidence of experience and likeability in one’s local Bar. But, don’t be fooled by window-dressing labels when selecting your trial attorney. I have found the vast majority of such “trial attorneys” are ineffective and unjustifiably arrogant. Recently, there has even been a court decision which allowed a non-certified trial attorney, who had certain qualifications, to call himself an expert. This was being opposed by; you guessed it, Board Certified attorneys.

When selecting a trial attorney, you should be hyper-critical. This is a do or die choice for you when faced with a financially high-stakes situation. Ask your potential trial lawyer: (i) How many civil jury and bench trials have you first-chaired (many ex-state attorneys and public defenders use their criminal trials to qualify for civil certification); (ii) What is his/her track record? Have they won the vast majority of their civil cases for their clients?; and (iii) Will they provide you with references? A successful civil trial attorney will have many satisfied clients all of whom should welcome the opportunity comment of their trial counsel. You want a winner.

Why do I write this blog? Am I just a disgruntled civil trial attorney who is not Board-Certified? Actually I was Board-Certified in Business Litigation by The Florida Bar.  I was in the very first class of such lawyers in Florida in 1996…..I was in my early 30’s. And there were less than 25 of us in the whole state. The standards back then were vastly more stringent than they are today….many more civil bench and jury trials were required. Now things are watered-down. Most “trial attorneys” now push clients to mediation and settle cases, never setting foot in the trial forum. The days of real trial attorneys seem to be waning. My Business Litigation certification was not renewed because some lawyer anonymously sent in a negative “peer review”; being liked by the other attorneys is actually one of the criteria for recertification. I was neither allowed to know who my accuser was nor was I able to question the review. I was never even allowed to know the content of the peer review. I was simply not re-certified because some lawyer, who I had probably beat in a case, said that I was not “nice and cordial”.

I hope that this illuminates one of the problems you will be faced with in selecting trial counsel: you will be bombarded with labels of Board Certified and those attorneys will try to convince you that only they are “experts”.  In my opinion, those certifications are nothing more than the result of a beauty contest. Do you really want your trial attorney to be the most popular attorney with his adversaries? Do you want your gladiator to be liked by the others for scratching the backs of opposing counsel?

As my old boss said, It’s fairly simple: Who did you “like” better as a kid, the one you could push around on the playground or the one who did the pushing? Now fast forward to being in a situation where you need skilled and aggressive representation: do you want the “liked” kid who is now an attorney and has a bunch of certifications or do you want the seasoned trial attorney, the expert who all the other lawyers have heard about, the one they fear?

Prosecuting or defending your rights in a civil lawsuit is a win and lose game; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I love to come up against Board Certified Civil Trial Attorneys; most of the time, they’re like lambs going into the lion’s den.

By: Peter J. Mackey, Esq.