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April 1, 2011

In Practice
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What’s in a name? A lot if you call yourself an expert or specialist

By Kathleen McCarthy Bishop
Assistant Bar Ethics Counsel

Not all lawyers are experts or specialists in their field of practice.

Experts by definition are those who have a special skill or knowledge in a particular field or area. Specialists are those who devote themselves to one subject or to one particular branch of a subject. However, even lawyers who devote their entire legal career to one area of law cannot claim to be an expert or specialist unless they are board certified. See Rule 4-7.2(c)(3), Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

Lawyers cannot use words such as “specialize,” “specialist,” “expert,” or “expertise” in conjunction with an area of practice unless they are board certified in that specific area of law. Lawyers cannot be considered experts in or as specializing in such areas as personal injury, probate, DUI, divorce, or mortgage foreclosure because board certification in those areas is not available. The Florida Bar certifies lawyers in the following areas: Admiralty & Maritime Law, Adoption Law, Antitrust & Trade Regulation Law, Appellate Practice, Aviation Law, Business Litigation, City, County & Local Government Law, Civil Trial, Construction Law, Criminal Appellate, Criminal Trial, Education Law, Elder Law, Health Law, Immigration & Nationality, Intellectual Property Law, International Law, Labor & Employment Law, Marital & Family Law, Real Estate, State & Federal Government & Administrative Practice, Tax Law, Wills, Trusts & Estates, and Workers’ Compensation.

Lawyers may be certified by The Florida Bar pursuant to Chapter 6, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar or by an organization other than The Florida Bar or another state bar if the organization’s program has been accredited by The Florida Bar. Lawyers must include the full name of the certifying organization when advertising or communicating their area of expertise.

For example, lawyers who are board certified by The Florida Bar in the area of Civil Trial Law and devote 100 percent of their practice to personal injury cannot claim to be experts in personal injury. Only the exact area of certification (Civil Trial Law) may be claimed as an area of expertise or specialty.

Currently, attorneys certified with organizations accredited by the American Bar Association whose applications are pending with or approved by The Florida Bar can advertise their certification in Florida. The lawyer must include the area of certification and the full name of certifying organization. Information about accreditation of other certifying organizations may be found on . Click on the link for Board Members.

An option available to distinguish board certification is the use of the initials “B.C.S.,” to indicate Board Certified Specialists. In accordance with Rule 6-3.9, if the initials are used, the area(s) in which the member is board certified must be identified; if used in court documents or a non-advertising context, the initials may stand alone.

In sum, a lawyer who is not certified by The Florida Bar, by another state bar with comparable standards, or an organization accredited by The Florida Bar may not be described to the public as a “specialist” or as “specializing,” “certified,” “board certified,” being an “expert” or having “expertise in,” or any variation of similar import. A lawyer may indicate that the lawyer concentrates in, focuses on, or limits the lawyer’s practice to particular areas of practice as long as the statements are true.

[Revised: 04-17-2014]