As of last year, the State Bar website lists that there are approximately 98,671 individuals licensed to practice law in the State of Texas (this includes all attorneys, not only those who practice criminal law). Statistic located on The State Bar of Texas website HERE. On the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS) website, it indicates there are “over 100,000 individuals are licensed to practice law in Texas, only 7,450 have earned the right to be publicly recognized as Board Certified Specialists.” That number includes all specialty areas, not just criminal law. Including those inducted this year, the TBLS website indicates that only 857 were “Board Certified in Criminal Law.”
This means that less than 1% percent total of all licensed attorneys in Texas are “Board Certified in Criminal Law” by The Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Thus, only a very small minority of individuals hold this prestigious designation, and there is a very logical reason why. Read my article on my quest for “Board Certification in Criminal Law” HERE.
Out of the 1% of those who are “Board Certified in Criminal Law” by The Texas Board of Legal Specialization - the overwhelming majority of this number is comprised of individuals who either have been or are currently serving as a prosecutor (in some capacity). This is not all that surprising, considering how some District Attorney Offices around the State actually give time off to some Assistant District Attorneys to study for the exam, and some often even help ensure they are involved in a variety of work so they can meet the rigorous application requirements needed to even apply.
The fact that the majority of the 857 attorneys who have attained this designation have been, or are currently serving as prosecutors, is actually not all that surprising. Prosecutors get to spend plenty of time in the courtroom, usually trying a variety of different criminal cases. Personally, I know of only three criminal defense attorneys, other than myself, who are “Board Certified in Criminal Law” by The Texas Board of Legal Specialization – and who have never worked as a prosecutor, even for a brief stint, at some point in their legal career.
This extremely small number (857 total), and the even much less, and almost infinitesimal number of those who have obtained the designation without ANY prosecutorial experience whatsoever, makes me all the more proud that I was successful in becoming "Board Certified in Criminal Law." Why? Because it is VERY difficult to establish the required trial and appellate experience that is strictly mandated and scrutinized during the application process by The Texas Board of Legal Specialization if you’ve spent your entire career defending the accused (and thus, not working to put people in prison or jail) as I have. I am extremely proud of this fact - because I feel it is a strong indicator of how my passion lies strictly in defending the citizen accused.
Non-board-certified lawyers, when asked, often like to say there is no significant difference between those who are “Board Certified” and those who are not. Some will say it is just a test, and the practical difference has little effect in real practice. Personally, I wholeheartedly disagree. I have often heard people say that if they really wanted to, they could take and pass the exam if they wished to pursue it. Whenever I hear this I become very skeptical. If it’s so easy, why haven’t they gotten certified? Perhaps they lack the experience to sit for the exam, or the requisite knowledge to successfully pass it.
Perhaps even worse, maybe those lawyers don’t care enough about themselves, their careers, the practice of criminal law, or their clients to take the time to do what is required to get "Board Certified." For me personally, Board Certification reflects a deep and ongoing commitment to the study and practice of criminal law, both in theory and in real practice. If most prosecutors attempt to become Board Certified and realize what the distinction actually means in terms of being serious about a career in practicing criminal law, why would you even think about coming to court represented by a defense attorney who hasn’t?
What does it take to be a “Board Certified” Attorney?
The formal certification process started around April of 2016, with the submission of a comprehensive application documenting extensive trial and appellate experience. The Texas Board of Legal Specialization also requires references from different attorneys and Judges that are familiar with the quality of legal representation that has been reflected in actual practice. On October 17th, 2016 I took a full day-long exam designed to evaluate my overall breadth of knowledge, understanding, and competence of criminal law, both at the state and federal level. You can view the Standards for Attorney Certification HERE.
The Texas State Bar established the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS) in 1974 to “promote the availability, accessibility, and quality of the services of attorneys to the public in particular areas of the law… and advance the standards of the legal profession.” The Board Certification process has stringent and ongoing requirements for certification. An attorney seeking certification must have the following to apply:
• Been in practice a minimum of five years with three years of substantial involvement in an area of law;
• Complete TBLS-approved Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course requirements,
• Furnish at least 10 qualified, vetted references (including at least 3 Judges);
• Provide extensive, relevant experience documentation; and
• Pass a comprehensive, and exhaustive, specialty area examination.