What does it take to become board certified in family law?

I recently became board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  Many attorney advertisements reference the fact that an attorney is or is not board certified.  I have to admit that until I started looking into board certification for myself, I did not even realize what it took to be a board certified attorney.  How hard could it be?  It seems like board certified attorneys are everywhere, so it cannot possibly be that hard, can it?

First, board certified attorneys are not as common as you may think.  According to the Texas Board of Legal Specialization website, there are over 100,000 licensed attorneys in Texas but only 7,450 are board certified.  There are twenty-two different specialty areas, so the number of board certified attorneys is any one area is significantly lower.

Next, when I started looking into the board certification process, I realized just how difficult it is to become board certified in family law.  No attorney can apply for board certification until he or she has been practicing for at least five years with at least three years in the specialty area.  However, given all of the requirements needed to become board certified, it takes most attorneys longer to qualify.

In order to become board certified in family law, the attorney must complete the following requirements just to be allowed to take the board certification exam:

  1.  The applicant must submit five references who are substantially involved in the practice of family law, with four being other attorneys and one being a judge before whom the applicant has appeared.
  2. The applicant must have 60 hours of Continuing Legal Education hours specific to family law in the past three years.
  3. The applicant must have devoted a minimum of 35% of her time to the practice of family law during the preceding three years (however, I think it would be difficult to achieve all of the requirements while only spending 35% of time on family law matters).
  4. Within the three years immediately preceding the application, the attorney must have completed the following:
  • Participated as lead counsel in at least 9 contested trials or binding arbitrations regarding family law matters, with at least four involving property issues and at least four involving appointment or modification of conservatorship;
  • Participated as lead counsel for a party or children in at least 30 contested family law matters that were finalized without a trial;
  • Satisfied at least two of three of the following:  (1) Participated as lead counsel for a party or children in at least two jury trials, with at least one involving family law; (2) handled an appeal and filed a brief as lead counsel in a family law matter; or (3) represented a party or children or served as a mediator in at least 25 family law mediations.
The application is extremely detailed, seeking information on the other attorneys involved in every case, the dates of mediation, the value of property involved in each case, the final disposition of the case, etc.  If the application is approved, the attorney is allowed to sit for the board certification exam.
I received notice that I could sit for the October 2016 board certification exam in the summer 2016.  At that time, I began asking other attorneys about the difficulty level of the test and how much studying would be necessary.  Surely someone who has practiced almost exclusively family law for the past several years would know most of the material on the test, right?  Wrong.  The test is extremely difficult.  Most attorneys I talked to recommended attending the annual Advanced Family Law seminar and said they spent hours each week for months preparing for the exam.  The attorneys I talked to who did not take studying seriously the first time around did not pass the test.  As a result, I attended the Advanced Family Law seminar, read all of the papers from the speakers (over 2500 pages, according to my iPad), and spent several months studying for the test.  The studying paid off, as I passed the test on the first try.  And, I can definitely say that all of the studying and preparation for the exam made me a far more knowledgeable attorney than I was before.
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