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Standing Policies of the Board of Legal Specialization and Education - 300 Certification Program Accreditation


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300 CERTIFICATION PROGRAM ACCREDITATION (Download 300 PDF document opens in new window)

3.01 AUTHORITY AND PURPOSE.

The BLSE shall have authority and responsibility to evaluate lawyer certifying organizations and programs and to define the conditions and procedures under which accreditation shall be granted, maintained, or revoked. Such review is intended to enable the BLSE to evaluate the objectives, standards, and procedures of such organizations and programs to ensure for the public the continued value of “certified,” “board certified,” “specialist,” and “expert” as a means to identify lawyers who have demonstrated special competence, skills, and proficiency, as well as character, ethics, and professionalism in the practice of law.


3.02 DEFINITIONS

(a) "Accredited Organization" means an entity that has at least 1 program accredited by the BLSE to certify lawyers as specialists.

(b) "Applicant" means a certifying organization which applies to The Florida Bar BLSE for accreditation or re-accreditation.

(c) "Florida component" is knowledge, skill, and understanding of Florida law.

(d) "Florida plan" refers to the Florida Certification Plan, including the standards for each specialty area as set forth in chapter 6, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.

(e) "Program," unless otherwise specified, means the process by which lawyers are certified as specialists in a certain area of law practice.

(f) "Specialty area" is the field of law in which lawyers are or are proposed to be certified as legal specialists.

(g) "Evaluation subcommittee" refers to the subcommittee convened to advise the BLSE in administering the accreditation of specialty certification programs for lawyers under these policies.


3.03 ELIGIBILITY FOR ACCREDITATION

To be eligible to become an accredited organization, an applicant must:

(a) demonstrate its dedication to the identification of lawyers who possess an enhanced level of skill, expertise, and professionalism, and to the continued development and improvement of the professional competence of lawyers;

(b) demonstrate sufficient resources and personnel who, by experience, education and professional background, have the ability to direct such program(s) in a manner consistent with these policies;

(c) include a governing body, a majority of which are lawyers who have substantial involvement in the specialty area and are responsible for the review of lawyers for certification;

(d) define the specialty area(s) in which applicant certifies or proposes to certify lawyers as specialists in understandable terms for potential users of legal services in a manner that will not lead to confusion with other specialty areas;

(e) demonstrate that applicant organization's certification and recertification requirements are not arbitrary, can be clearly understood and easily applied, and that its programs operate in accordance with these policies;

(f) certify only lawyers who have satisfied each requirement and who continue to maintain such requirements comparable to, but no less than, those required for certification under the Florida plan;

(g) not require membership or completion of educational programs offered by any specific organization for certification; and,

not discriminate against any lawyer seeking certification on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or age.


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3.04 MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR LAWYER CERTIFICATION

(a) Applicant shall require lawyers to satisfy and maintain standards comparable to, but no less than, those required for certification under the Florida plan and, where the same or similar specialty area exists under the Florida plan, applicant shall require no less than the standards set forth for that specialty area, including passage of the Florida exam. If the area does not exist under the Florida Plan, specific and/or additional requirements shall include:

    (1) Substantial Involvement. If determined appropriate by the BLSE, a Florida component shall be required to evidence experience and involvement specific to Florida law.

    (2) Peer Review. Applicant, not the lawyer seeking certification, shall send and receive statements of reference. References must be from persons who are not related to the lawyer or who are not engaged in legal practice with the lawyer. Applicant shall further require and consider at least 2 statements of reference from individuals apart from those submitted by the lawyer. Statements of reference shall inquire at least into the reference's specialty area, familiarity with the specialty area, the length of time the reference has been practicing law and has known the lawyer, and the lawyer's qualifications, both generally and in the specialty field, as well as the lawyer's character, ethics, and professionalism.

    (3) Examination. Applicant shall submit a copy of the written examination and must demonstrate that a lawyer seeking certification must pass such examination. The examination must be of suitable length and complexity to evaluate the lawyer's knowledge of substantive and procedural law in the specialty area. The examination shall include professional responsibility and ethics as relative to the specialty area. The examination shall also include evidence of a Florida component as determined appropriate by the BLSE. Applicant must also provide evidence of periodic review of the examination to ensure relevance to knowledge and skills needed in the specialty area as the law and practice methods develop over time, and evidence that appropriate measures are taken to protect the security of all examinations.

3.05 MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR LAWYER RECERTIFICATION

(a) Applicant must have adopted a plan for recertification of all lawyers previously certified. Certification or recertification shall be valid for 5 years. While no examination shall be required for recertification, each certified lawyer must show continued competence in the specialty field in accordance with standards comparable to, but no less than, those required for recertification under the Florida plan and, where the same or similar specialty area exists under the Florida plan, applicant shall require no less than the standards set forth for that specialty area.

3.06 APPLICANT PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS

(a) Applicant must provide a written review process whereby a lawyer has the opportunity to challenge a denial of eligibility, a denial of certification or recertification, or suspension or revocation of certification to an impartial decision maker.

(b) Applicant will require lawyers seeking certification or recertification to report to applicant, within the application, criminal or professional misconduct, judgments of guilt and/or disciplinary sanctions. Applicant will also require the lawyer seeking certification or recertification to report to applicant, within the application, whether the lawyer has either withdrawn an application for certification or recertification by The Florida Bar or had certification denied or revoked by The Florida Bar. Applicant will have procedures in place to revoke lawyer certification in instances of a disciplinary suspension, reprimand, disbarment, or criminal conviction. Applicant will revoke lawyer certification in instances of denial or revocation of certification by The Florida Bar. Applicant will further report such instances immediately to the BLSE.


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3.07 APPLICATION FOR ACCREDITATION

(a) Application shall be made to BLSE in a format prescribed by the BLSE with all information completed, including any supplemental documentation requested, along with the appropriate non-refundable processing fee.

(b) The application shall be accompanied by a listing of the names, bar numbers, specialty areas, and certification periods (beginning and ending dates) of Florida lawyers currently certified by applicant.

(c) The application shall be signed by an authorized representative of applicant.

(d) If applicant is accredited by the American Bar Association to certify lawyers as specialists, proof of such accreditation shall be provided with the application.


3.08 EVALUATION SUBCOMMITTEE

(a) It is responsibility of this subcommittee to conduct an independent evaluation of the qualifications of an applicant and each specialty program submitted and to recommend action to be taken on applications for accreditation.

(b) Appointment of the evaluation subcommittee shall be made by the BLSE chair and shall consist of up to 5 members including a member of the BLSE to serve as chair; a member of the relevant certification committee(s) (if applicable); person(s) knowledgeable in the specialty area(s); and, a person(s) knowledgeable in the administration and the operation of a program which certifies lawyers as specialists. If an applicant applies for accreditation in more than 1 specialty area, an experienced practitioner in each of the areas shall be appointed to the evaluation subcommittee.

(c) Unless otherwise extended, the evaluation subcommittee's responsibility shall end after final decision on an application has been made.

(d) Persons deemed to have a conflict of interest shall not serve on an evaluation subcommittee.


3.09 EVALUATION SUBCOMMITTEE ACTION

The evaluation subcommittee shall act by majority vote within 90 days after receipt of a complete application. The evaluation subcommittee shall:

(a) Recommend accreditation with or without conditions, if applicant has demonstrably satisfied all the requirements for accreditation as set forth in these policies; or request additional information; or

(b) Recommend denial if applicant fails to satisfy the requirements of these policies or has made material false representations or misstatements of material fact; and

(c) Provide written notice of its recommendation and the basis thereof to applicant, with a copy to the BLSE. A request for reconsideration may be made but must be in writing. It must state clearly and concisely any new or clarifying information addressing the basis for the denial and include all relevant evidence supporting the position of applicant. If no response is received within 30 days of the date of receipt of the notice, the recommendation shall be forwarded to the BLSE for action.


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3.10 BLSE ACTION

The BLSE shall act on the recommendation of the evaluation subcommittee within 120 days after submission of the recommendation. The BLSE shall transmit its decision in writing to applicant.

3.11 DURATION OF ACCREDITATION

Accreditation by the BLSE shall commence and remain in effect during the dates indicated on the notice of accreditation, unless terminated sooner pursuant to the earlier of the following occurrences:

(a) Termination of accreditation is requested in writing by the accredited organization and an acknowledgment letter sent by the BLSE stating the effective termination date; or

(b) Revocation of accreditation by the BLSE.


3.12 ADVERTISEMENT OF ACCREDITATION

(a) In connection with advertisement of accreditation pursuant to these policies, an accredited organization must state in its Florida advertisement(s): "Accredited by The Florida Bar to certify lawyers in the specialty area(s) of [insert specialty fields].” If conditions are stated, the organization must also include: “under the following conditions [insert the conditions].”

(b) In connection with advertising the fact of certification by an accredited organization pursuant to these policies, a lawyer must state: "Certified Specialist in [insert specialty field) by (full name of the accredited organization.]"

(c) As to the accredited organization, a lawyer may, in addition, include "Accredited by The Florida Bar.”

(d) A member of The Florida Bar may not hold himself or herself out as being certified by The Florida Bar or an accredited organization unless actually certified by those entities.

(e) A member of The Florida Bar certified by an organization whose accreditation is revoked pursuant to these policies may not advertise certification by that organization in Florida.


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3.13 REVOCATION OF ACCREDITATION

An organization's accreditation may be revoked by the BLSE for the following reasons:

(a) Accreditation is granted contrary to these policies where the accredited organization made material false misrepresentations or misstatements of material facts; or

(b) The accredited organization no longer meets the standards for accreditation; or

(c) The accredited organization's advertisements are contrary to these rules; or

(d) The accredited organization fails to file any annual reports, fees, or respond to requests from the BLSE.


3.14 REVOCATION PROCESS

Revocation of accreditation by the BLSE shall be pursuant to the following process:

(a) A notice of intended accreditation revocation shall be mailed to the accredited organization setting forth the proposed reasons for such action;

(b) Unless opposed, the action shall be effective 10 days from the receipt of such notice; or,

(c) If opposed, the accredited organization may contest the action by sending a written request to the BLSE setting forth the reasons review is sought and why such accreditation should remain intact. Such request shall be accompanied by all relevant evidence supporting the objections of the accredited organization.

(d) The BLSE shall consider the request and may hold hearings or investigate further as it deems appropriate. The ruling by the BLSE shall be final.


3.15 ANNUAL RENEWAL

An accredited organization shall file an annual renewal. Failure to file shall result in revocation of accreditation. Annual renewals must be submitted in a format prescribed by the BLSE, shall be accompanied by the required processing fee, and shall include the following items:

(a) the certification examination that will be administered in the next testing session;

(b) sufficient documentation to show that the applicant continues to satisfy all requirements for accreditation set forth in Policy 3.04;

(c) an explanation of any changes to the applicant’s standards or examination; and

(d) a complete list of the names and addresses of lawyers who have been certified or recertified as specialists in each program.

The renewal shall be signed and verified by an authorized representative of the accredited organization.


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3.16 FEES

(a) The non-refundable application fee for accreditation shall be $1,500. If the organization is currently accredited by the American Bar Association, the non-refundable application fee shall be $1,000.

(b) The non-refundable annual renewal fee shall be $500 for each specialty area. Annual renewals received late shall be assessed an additional $250.


3.17 DISCLOSURE OF INFORMATION

(a) Materials submitted by applicant as part of the accreditation process shall be deemed public information unless otherwise restricted by rule or policy. Examinations shall be kept confidential.



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[Revised: December 2013]