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Civil trial.

Is there any greater feeling as a civil trial lawyer, than having successfully championed a client's cause to verdict? Is victory even more satisfying when you, as trial advocate, overcome great odds, pursue a just cause, and deftly confront challenges that would make Solomon blink? For 20 years, The Florida Bar, through the civil trial certification program, has created the means to improve the competency of civil trial lawyers and to identify for the public those lawyers who have special skills and proficiency. Every civil trial lawyer should aspire to best protect and serve the interests of his clients and his profession.

The civil trial certification program is one of the oldest of the certification programs. In the early years of the program, the majority of the lawyers seeking certification were long-standing, experienced trial lawyers. As the program entered its 10th year in 1993, the number of certified trial lawyers exceeded 1,000. At the same time, lawyers seeking certification were those that had more recently acquired the requisite level of experience required by the standards. Presently, there are 1,131 board certified trial lawyers. The Bar's total membership is slightly over 71,000. Clearly, the number of lawyers who specialize in civil trial practice is a smaller subset of this number, and the number eligible for certification in civil trial is even less. However, the number of certified civil trial lawyers is still a small percentage of those eligible, perhaps as low as 10 percent.

Why have so few trial lawyers attained certification as a civil trial specialist? In discussions with the general public about the certification program, the overwhelming sentiment expressed confirms that if an individual needed a lawyer and knew nothing else about a lawyer except that the lawyer achieved what more than 90 percent of colleagues had not, they would feel reasonably confident in their selection of counsel based on certification alone. Indeed, a significant number of applicants seeking certification report doing so for marketing and advertising purposes. Further, if most lawyers diligently pursue their law degrees and their legal careers, why have so few pursued civil trial certification? Again, a large segment of applicants report personal enhancement and enhanced professionalism and credibility among their peers as the primary reasons for seeking certification.

Certainly, there are good trial lawyers who are not board certified. There are seasoned advocates whose practice and reputation in their community are well known and little benefit may be derived from board certification for their practice. Nonetheless, there still remains the unsettled question of why such qualified lawyers choose not to attain the highest level of professional recognition available to members of The Florida Bar.

As for the vast majority of trial lawyers who are not board certified, are the standards too high for most? Are the risks of failure too frightening? As many as 33 percent of applicants have reported fear of failing the certification process as the single, largest impediment to seeking certification. Recent examination results do reflect a need to continue evaluation of the most accurate and equitable manner to test for civil advocacy and trial skills. Perhaps the changing legal environment has prevented lawyers from obtaining the necessary trial experience required of civil trial specialists. With mediation now well-established as the means to conclude the vast majority of civil litigation, cases which may have been tried years back, now resolve. To help otherwise qualified lawyers, the standards were amended to permit the attendance at an approved trial advocacy program to satisfy one of the trial requirements.

Nonetheless, should a lawyer with little trial experience be able to hold out to the public as a trial specialist because he or she successfully litigates cases to conclusion at mediation? Is that fair to a public that relies on The Florida Bar to recognize as certified only those lawyers who have demonstrated special skill and competency in civil trial law. Certainly, both the Bar and the public would benefit by increasing the number of board certified trial lawyers.

In confronting this challenge, the Civil Trial Certification Committee has struggled to balance the need for well-qualified and respected lawyers to become and remain certified with the need to maintain the high standards expected of certified trial lawyers. To succeed in this regard, the committee has proposed some far-reaching amendments. With the support of the Board of Legal Specialization and Education and the civil trial bar, there will be greater numbers of excellent trial lawyers proudly carrying the title of board certified civil trial lawyer. This result will better protect the public and will better serve the interests of the trial bar by making certification more attainable. The committee is committed to keep the bar high, but to reach out to trial lawyers that can and should be able to make the climb.

Anthony J. Caggiano is a board certified civil trial lawyer since 1992 and serves as chair of the Civil Trial Certification Committee.
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Title Annotation:board certification
Author:Caggiano, Anthony J.
Publication:Florida Bar Journal
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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