Steven B. Lesser
For decades, established organizations such as Chambers and Partners, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell, Avvo and others have ranked lawyers in specialty areas after performing research, soliciting peer review, interviewing with potential lawyer candidates and in some instances speaking to their clients. At the same time, other organizations provide lawyer rankings but not necessarily based on credentials but in exchange for payment. With lawyer ranking organizations participating in social media and elsewhere, all this can be confusing to the public. Consumers of legal services need to have a reliable and meaningful evaluation of a lawyer before retaining them. So, what do consumers of legal services want to know from organizations that rank lawyers?
The consumer seeks to know if the lawyer is competent in a practice area, has a reputation for professionalism and has the experience to handle a particular matter. If the foregoing considerations serve as drivers, then board certification by state bar associations and ABA accredited programs should be recognized as a factor when any organization ranks and publishes these lawyer rankings. This is because state bar associations and organizations with ABA accredited lawyer certification programs have already performed due diligence by determining that a lawyer is substantially involved in a practice area (generally at least 40% of the time), has passed a written examination, been vetted by confidential peer review by colleagues in their geographic area of practice and have taken continuing legal education to stay current with trends in their respective practice areas. This undertaking is significant, is conducted by bar staff, and board-certified volunteers to administer these requirements. Moreover, there are enforcement mechanisms to ensure due process and established procedures to revoke or suspend board certification status. The larger state bar programs expend thousands of hours each year to administer board certification programs. Florida and Texas have the largest certification programs in the nation with 27 certification areas, followed by North Carolina with 14 and California with 11. Other states including New Jersey, Ohio and Louisiana have several certification areas. The American Bar Association has a special standing committee which administers the accreditation process for lawyer certification programs offered by eight national organizations. These organizations have a corporate infrastructure, must demonstrate fiscal stability and the ability to administer specialty board certification examinations. Moreover, these organizations conduct peer review and consider professionalism as a main ingredient, all in compliance with the ABA standards for accreditation of specialty certification programs for lawyers.