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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.

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 knowledge in particular areas of practice and providing them with a legitimate way of informing the public and other lawyers of this proficiency.

The specialization program is administered by the Board of Legal Specialization, a standing committee of the State Bar that was created in 1985.

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.

To find out if a course would be eligible for specialization credit towards initial certification or recertification in a specific specialty area, please send a copy of the agenda or course description to Lanice Heidbrink or fax to 919-719-9353. 

Appellate practice, bankruptcy law (including subspecialties in consumer bankruptcy law and business bankruptcy law); child welfare law; criminal law (including specialties in state and federal criminal law and juvenile delinquency law); elder law; estate planning and probate law; family law; immigration law; privacy and information security law; real property (including subspecialties in residential real property law and commercial real property law): social security disability law; trademark law; utilities law; and workers’ compensation law. The standards for certification in these practice areas are set forth in 27 NCAC 1D, Sections .2100 through .3400.

The initial application must be accompanied by a check for $250. If approved to sit for the examination, the applicant must pay a $200 examination fee.

The certification applications are available in the State Bar Member Portal. The Forms page includes supplemental forms as well as information on when the application period is open. You may also request an application by calling Lanice Heidbrink at the State Bar at (919) 828-4620.

Certification is effective for five years. At the end of five years, a board certified 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.

The recertification applications are available in the State Bar Member Portal. The Forms page includes supplemental forms as well as information on when the recertification period is open. You may also request a recertification application by calling Lanice Heidbrink at the State Bar at (919) 828-4620.

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.

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.

You may call Brian Oten, director of the specialization program, Denise Mullen, managing director, Lanice Heidbrink, assistant to the executive director, or Sheila Saucier, certification coordinator, at (919) 828-4620.