Our firm is proud to announce that Attorney Jill Brisbois has become a Certified Criminal Law Specialist! Now, with Attorney Joseph Tamburino, our team includes two experts in criminal law—equipping us to defend our clients even more effectively in court and in negotiation.
For people who aren’t lawyers, certification may sound a little vague. In a world where there are countless “licenses” and online “certifications” for sale, it’s difficult to gauge whether a certification is valuable or simply a bit of clever marketing.
Below, our team explains what legal specialization means, and why it benefits you.
Singling Out Proven Attorneys with Legal Specialization
After medical school and residency, doctors have the option to further refine their practice through specialization. Whether a doctor wants to treat newborns as a neonatologist or provide vital care as a brain surgeon, they have to further their education through years of focused training.
In the state of Minnesota, lawyers can undergo a similar process.
The Minnesota State Bar Association regulates a process by which attorneys can become “Certified Specialists” in certain areas of law: Civil Trial Law, Criminal Law, Labor & Employment Law, and Real Property Law. While a lawyer may practice any area of law without specialization, lawyers who specialize are guaranteed to have a deep working knowledge and extensive experience in their field.
Before medical specialization and established standards, surgery used to be conducted by barbers. With any profession, separating the mediocre practitioners from the truly skilled can be difficult. The State Bar’s high standards for criminal specialists helps ensure that skilled and proven lawyers can be distinguished more easily by prospective clients.
The Standards for Specialization
Lawyers are evaluated by the Criminal Law Board in 3 general areas:
Knowledge Evaluation with a Rigorous Exam
All specialists have to take a written exam in order to prove their knowledge of criminal law. This knowledge is not general understanding, either—attorneys have to further their criminal law education through 30 hours of training in the 3 years prior to the exam, and every 3 years after.
In addition, attorneys have to demonstrate their ability to write briefs and argue law through the written word. Legal skill is far more than being able to speak in front of a jury—lawyers must be able to convince judges of the merit of their arguments. Prospective attorneys must submit 3 written briefs that must demonstrate their understanding and practical application of criminal law.
Requiring Extensive Trial Experience
The foremost requirement of the Board is at least 5 years of practice for any applicant—in those years, the applicant must demonstrate that they devoted at least 25% of their practice to criminal law.
The MSBA Criminal Law Board requires specialists to meet 1 of the following 3 criteria:
- To have been Principal Attorney in at least 3 jury trials in the 5 years prior to applying. These jury trials must amount to 8 days of trial or more.
- To have been Principal Attorney in at least 10 jury trials, amounting to 30 days of trial total.
- To have been Principal Attorney in at least 5 jury trials, amounting to 10 days of trial.
Sterling Reputation Among Judges & Opponents
One of the most interesting requirements from the Board is two letters of recommendation: one from a judge who presided over the applicant’s case, and another from a lawyer who opposed the applicant in court.
Why a letter from an opponent?
In the legal community, respect among your peers is vital—a lawyer known for unethical or unscrupulous practice is far less likely to be able to help his or her clients. The best lawyers are not just known for their skill among friends. Both judges and adversaries should be able to speak highly of an ethical, skilled, and talented attorney.
Who the Certification Is For
These are robust standards, to say the least. However, earning specialist status is about more than increasing prestige or bolstering a resume. It’s about letting clients know who they can trust.
In the end, these standards don’t serve the attorney—they serve the people who turn to them.
Now, when you note a lawyer’s specialization, you’ll be aware of the trial experience, knowledge, and ethics that made the certification possible.