Give certification more prominent play on the Bar’s website. October 15, 2000 Managing Editor Regular News Offer board certification pamphlets to local/voluntary bars for Law Day events. BLSE launches drive to promote certification Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Becoming board certified not only identifies you as a lawyer who has demonstrated special knowledge, skills and proficiency in a specific area of law, but also as someone who possesses good character, ethics and a reputation for professionalism. That’s the message the Board of Legal Specialization and Education is imparting in a new campaign to educate the public and profession about the benefits of the certification program. “Certification is more than simply a process of independent recognition of the special skills of special lawyers in special areas by special committees,” Bar President Herman Russomanno told those assembled for the Certification Leadership Conference in Tampa September 13. “Certification is no longer simply a program of The Florida Bar,” said Russomanno, a board certified civil trial lawyer. “It is instead a notable achievement for those who earn the status; it provides incentive to maintain one’s proficiency; and it is the most practical and meaningful resource for the public to evaluate a lawyer’s credentials.” There are now more than 3,500 lawyers board certified by The Florida Bar in a program Justice Harry Lee Anstead calls one of the crown jewels of the Florida justice system. “The character, competence and commitment that defines professionalism is also the essential formula for certification,” Justice Anstead said. “Everything about the certification process emphasizes the qualities and goals for which all Florida lawyers need to be striving,” said BLSE Chair Elizabeth Russo. “We need to elevate the ethics and standards that Florida lawyers set for themselves.” Russo said raising the profile of board certification will help it become an invaluable tool in the Bar’s general push toward restoring professionalism. She said lawyers need to see board certification as a virtual necessity if they are to have respect, status, and appropriate credentialing for being selected as the lawyer-of-choice for any given case or task. “And, a lawyer can only become certified by being both proficient and ethical,” Russo said. “The qualities and efforts required for board certification are really the qualities and efforts that were originally conceived as those necessary for one to be a lawyer at all.” Bar President-elect Terry Russell said one of the positive aspects of the certification program is that it demonstrates to the public that the Bar is committed to excellence. “I am committed to the success and viability of this program and will continue to support it as president next year,” said Russell, who is board certified in both civil trial and business litigation. Francine Walker, the Bar’s public information director, has proposed a number of ways to promote certification to both the public and profession, including: Walker said board certification is one of the most important objectives the Bar has to offer for the benefit of its members and the public. “The tremendous growth we have seen in our profession has had the obvious effect of increased competition, which has led to a proliferation of legal advertising — on television, radio, billboards, the Yellow Pages and even on the Internet,” Walker said. “Regardless of our personal opinion as professionals about lawyer advertising, consider the plight of the unsophisticated legal consumer: hundreds of pages of Yellow Pages listings, commercials with the enticement of large financial recoveries, and a general lack of familiarity and understanding of the legal system. For legal consumers, board certification can and should be a valuable tool.” Certification is now available in the fields of appellate practice; tax; civil trial law; marital and family law; wills, trusts and estates; criminal law; real estate law; workers’ compensation; admiralty and maritime law; aviation law; business litigation; city, county and local government law; health law; immigration and nationality law; elder law; labor and employment law; international law; and antitrust and trade regulation. A lawyer seeking to be certified must: have practiced law for at least five years; show substantial involvement in the specific area of law during three of the last five years; show satisfactory continuing legal education; pass a certification examination; and be recognized as both competent and ethical through peer review. Only certified attorneys may identify themselves as “Florida Bar Board Certified” or as a “Specialist.” Russo said one of the banes of promoting certification is that many established lawyers — “some of them the most preeminent and revered members of the Bar” — are not going to bother to go through the certification process at this late point in their careers. That’s why the BLSE needs to work hardest on promoting certification to lawyers 45 and younger “so that certification can evolve into something you really need if you are going to be taken seriously as a contender in the upper ranks of Florida lawyers.” As more and more lawyers become certified, Russo said, the public will increasingly ask about certification, and choose the board certified lawyer over the noncertified. “So, the formula is: You have to be ethical to be certified, and — eventually — you have to be certified to be respected and get clients,” Russo said. “So, lawyers have to be ethical to succeed in Florida.” In the Supreme Court opinion creating the certification program, the justices quoted Marvin E. Frankel from an article titled Curing Lawyers’ Incompetence: “The significant qualities distinguishing good from bad lawyers and, thus, the areas for truly major concern about `competence’ are matters of character, judgment, wisdom, morals and attitude, not the business of technical proficiency. Technical proficiency does not protect the public from a lazy, ill-prepared, or dilatory lawyer. Technical proficiency without professional integrity still adds up to a bad lawyer.” “This court recognizes its responsibility to ensure that Florida’s legal system is responsive to public needs and that the lawyers of this state have available to them a method for improving their proficiency,” the justices said. “We believe that the public is entitled to know which lawyers have demonstrated special skills and possess technical competency in specific legal areas. . . . ” Dawna Bicknell, director of the certification program, said she is enthusiastic about the support to raise awareness of the program. “Board certification offers the public and the profession a credential which fundamentally demonstrates a lawyer’s commitment to professional and personal development,” Bicknell said. “It is remarkable to have such a strong showing of support from the Bar’s leadership and we are eager to build upon the momentum provided by President Russomanno and President-elect Russell.” Russomanno said certification is one way of helping the public make a more informed decision when selecting a lawyer, and it is a valuable resource for referrals among those within the profession. “Civility is not a sign of weakness, but a badge of honor,” Russomanno said. BLSE launches drive to promote certification Add a description of board certification to the Bar’s “How to Find a Lawyer in Florida” consumer pamphlet. Organize a certification speakers bureau as an adjunct to the Bar’s speakers bureau. Produce and distribute board certification public service announcements.