About the NBLSC
The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification is an outgrowth of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. The NBLSC is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Bar Association to provide board certification for attorneys. It has developed over the years into two divisions, the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA), which was the first non-profit board in the world dedicated to certifying lawyer competence, and the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy.
The National Board of Trial Advocacy was founded in 1977 as a non-profit organization. It was initially located in Boston, before moving to Wrentham, Massachusetts. The NBTA is dedicated to bettering the quality of trial advocacy in our nation's courtrooms and helping consumers find experienced and highly qualified trial lawyers. Theodore I. Koskoff was the founder and, until 1987, served as the President and Chairman of the Board. In addition to being Senior Partner in the Bridgeport, Connecticut law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder, Mr. Koskoff was a pioneer in the field of specialization. He was also a Past President of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the Roscoe Pound Foundation and the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association. NBTA was housed, and fully supported by the Association of Trial Lawyers of American (now American Association of Justice) until 1987 when it became an independent non-profit corporation and moved to independent quarters in Boston.
The National Board of Legal Specialty Certification is accredited by the American Bar Association to certify lawyers in the specialty areas of civil trial law, criminal trial law, family trial law and social security disability advocacy law. The organization went through a rigorous application process wherein panels were chosen by the ABA-Standing Committee on Specialization to evaluate each aspect of NBLSC’s structure. This review included not only our standards and certification policies but also an intensive evaluation of all aspects of the operation from financial solvency to a complete screening of all decision makers.
Our philosophy is that bona fide attorney certification programs--particularly in trial advocacy--can substantially advance the public interest. In 1973 at the annual Sonnett Lecture at Fordham University School of Law, then-Chief Justice Burger alerted the legal community in the United States that "some system of certification for trial advocates is an imperative and long overdue step." Burger, The Special Skills of Advocacy: Are Specialized Training and Certification of Advocates Essential to Our System of Justice? 42 Fordham L.Rev. 227 (1973.)
In his view, the absence of certification programs "has helped bring about the low state of American trial advocacy and a consequent diminution in the quality of our entire system of justice."While the Chief Justice focused on "certification of the one crucial specialty of trial advocacy that is so basic to a fair system of justice and has had historic recognition in the common law system,” this historic speech also established the intellectual foundation for what has now become a strong and well established board certification movement for all specialties in the practice of law.
The standards set forth by our Board of Directors for board certification in each of our four specialty areas are challenging and meaningful. NBLSC board certification is a voluntary certification. It is not a requirement to practice law and, therefore, any lawyer who has taken the extra time and effort to achieve this credential can be justifiably proud. A consumer who chooses an NBLSC member for a lawyer can be sure of obtaining a highly experienced and specialized practitioner.
The driving force behind the organization is the NBLSC Board of Directors which consists of nationally known trial lawyers, educators and judges. The Board members bring their divergent backgrounds together in the public interest to carry on the spirit of Chief Justice Burger’s vision.
There are now more than 2400 lawyers who are certified by the NBLSC. The number of NBLSC board certified lawyers has been steadily growing consistent with the trend toward specialization in the legal profession and consumer demand for a system of verifiable non-profit methods by which consumers can locate and select from highly qualified and experienced lawyers.
It is important to note that every NBLSC board certified attorney has met all the standards in their specialty for initial certification and, where applicable, recertification. There have been no exceptions and no attorney has ever been "grandfathered" in or waived from any requirement.
The requirements for certification must be successfully met within two years of applying, in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Membership Director. This is necessary to keep all information as current as possible.
Once an attorney has met and documented meeting the standards for NBLSC certification he or she remains an active member for five years, subject to annual reporting which continues to meet the requirements of the Standards Committee. Once the five year period is completed, the member may choose to apply for recertification. Once an attorney has met and documented the standards for NBLSC recertification he or she remains an active member for another five years, subject to annual reporting which continues to meet the requirements of the Standards Committee. All members have an ongoing responsibility to inform NBLSC of any misconduct which may arise during the course of the certification or recertification period. Good standing is also confirmed on an annual basis by way of a formal annual reporting component of the NBLSC certification. All misconduct matters are reviewed and ruled upon in the same fashion as initial certification.
On June 4, 1990, NBTA was victorious on the US Supreme Court level in the case of Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois. In their opinion, The Court stated;
"We find NBTA standards objectively clear.”
Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois, 110 S.Ct. 2281 (1990).
There are 11 States which have their own certification plans: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Eleven states have formally approved NBLSC certification. These include: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. Additionally, several states have adopted rules formally recognizing ABA accredited agencies. These include: Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin, and several others are investigating adoption of approval mechanisms for the recognition of attorney certification programs.
In the States where NBLSC is an authorized and approved certifying agency, there was a rigorous application process. In Texas and Ohio NBLSC was the first approved outside certifying agency, while in Indiana NBLSC was one of the first two accredited at the same time. In Minnesota, NBLSC is one of two certifying agencies, with the second being the Minnesota State Bar for whom NBLSC is the authorized examiner for the Civil Trial certification. NBLSC's standards and policies were used as the model for Minnesota when they developed their certification program. NBLSC also serves as the official examiner in Arizona for their certifications in Wrongful Death/Personal Injury Litigation and Criminal Trial Law, and in New Mexico for that Board's certification in Civil Trial Law.
NBLSC's certification procedures are widely recognized as exemplary. The Task Force on Lawyer Competence of the Conference of Chief Justices found in a 1982 report that:
“The National Board of Trial Advocacy, a national certification program that provides recognition for superior achievement in trial advocacy, uses a highly-structured examination to select its members ...
[Certification by the National Board of Trial Advocacy is an arduous process that employs a wide range of assessment methods and entails considerable cost to the candidate.]”
Report with Findings and Recommendations to The Conference of Chief Justices, May 26, 1982 (Publication Number NCSC-021).
The Supreme Court of Minnesota has recognized that "NBLSC applies a rigorous and exacting set of standards and examinations on a national scale before certifying a lawyer as a trial specialist, either criminal or civil or both." In re Johnson, 341 N.W.2d 282, 283 (Min. 1983); see also ex parte Howell, 487 So2d 848 (Ala. 1986).
The Board of Directors is very active and continually reviewing and participating in all levels of policy decision and implementation. The home office staff is conscientious and dedicated to strictly adhering to and implementing all Board set procedures.
As the US Supreme Court stated in its opinion:
"There is no dispute about the bona fides and the relevance of NBTA certification…. Disclosure of information such as that on petitioner's letterhead both serves the public interest and encourages the development and utilization of meritorious certification programs for attorneys."
Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois, 110 S.Ct. 2281 (1990).