Q: Where do I find the rules for the program of the North Carolina State Bar to certify lawyers as specialists?
Q: What is specialty certification for lawyers?
Many lawyers limit their practices to certain areas of law. However, a lawyer may not claim that he or she is a "specialist" unless the lawyer is certified as a specialist by the North Carolina State Bar's Board of Legal Specialization or a certifying organization that has been approved by the American Bar Association. See Rule 7.4 of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct of the North Carolina State Bar.
Q: Why does the State Bar certify lawyers as specialists?
Certification of lawyers as specialists by an objective entity and according to objective criteria fulfills the mission of the State Bar to protect the public by providing relevant, truthful, and reliable information to consumers of legal services. Certification helps consumers to identify lawyers who have experience and skill in a certain area of practice. Certification also helps lawyers by encouraging them to improve their expertise in particular areas of practice and providing them with a legitimate way of informing the public and other lawyers of this expertise.
Q: What entity is responsible for administering the specialization program for the North Carolina State Bar?
The specialization program is administered by the Board of Legal Specialization, a standing committee of the State Bar that was created in 1985.
Q: What are the requirements for certification by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization?
Although the requirements vary from one specialty area to the next, the minimum standards for certification as a specialist include the following:
(1) the applicant must be licensed and in good standing to practice law in North Carolina;
(2) the applicant must be substantially involved in the practice area, usually for a minimum of five years;
(3) the applicant must take a certain number of continuing legal education credits in the specialty area during the three years prior to application;
(4) the applicant must make a satisfactory showing of qualification in the specialty through peer review; and
(5) the applicant must achieve a satisfactory score on a written examination in the practice area.
Q: In what areas of practice does the Board of Legal Specialization certify lawyers?
Appellate Practice, Bankruptcy law (including subspecialties in consumer bankruptcy law and business bankruptcy law); criminal law (including specialties in state criminal law and juvenile delinquency law); elder law; family law; estate planning and probate law; immigration law; real property (including subspecialties in residential real property law and commercial real property law): social security disability law; trademark law; and workers’ compensation law. The standards for certification in these practice areas are set forth in 27 NCAC 1D, Sections .2100 through .3100.
Q: How much does it cost to apply for certification?
The initial application must be accompanied by a check for $250. If approved to sit for the examination, the applicant must pay a $150 examination fee.
Q: Where does a lawyer get an application for certification?
The certification applications are included in the forms section of this website. You may also request an application by calling Lanice Heidbrink at the State Bar at (919) 828-4620.
Q: Does a specialist have to renew his or her certification and, if so, what are the requirements for recertification?
Certification is effective for five years. At the end of five years, a specialist must apply for recertification. There is a $250 fee for recertification. The standards for recertification are similar to the standards for initial certification but no written examination is required. A summary of the standards for recertification can be found here.
Q: Where does a lawyer get an application for recertification?
The recertification applications are included in the forms section of this website. You may also request a recertification application by calling Lanice Heidbrink at the State Bar at (919) 828-4620.
Q: Do specialists have to pay annual dues or a fee?
Yes, there is a $100 annual fee.
Q: I have been certified as a specialist by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. If I change my membership status to inactive, will I lose my specialty certification?
Yes, if you remain inactive for an entire calendar year. To retain your certification, you must remain substantially involved in the specialty practice area. Substantial involvement is defined differently for each specialty but, generally, it requires that the specialist devote no less than 25% of a full-time practice to the specialty every calendar year. Check the recertification standards for your specialty.
Q: May I still hold myself out as a board certified specialist if I change my membership status to inactive?
No, during any period of inactivity, you must discontinue the active practice of law. Any statements or representations you make about yourself may not imply that you have an active law license.
Q: Who do I call at the State Bar if I have any questions about specialty?
You may call Alice Mine, director of the specialization program, Denise Mullen, assistant director, or Lanice Heidbrink, Ms. Mine's assistant, at (919) 828-4620.
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