New Lawyers

Why Certify as a Specialist?

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by Amber R. Hayes, Hodson & Mullin

Many of us are just beyond the memory of the Bar Exam, having recently passed, and cringe at the thought of taking another bar exam-like test. Isn’t that what the Specialist Exam is? We ask. Isn’t just another bar exam? No thank you! But, there is no reason to fear. The legal specialization exam is merely one day long and includes both a written essay portion and multiple choice questions; and, the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization posts sample essay questions and answers for your study and preparation. And, in my chosen discipline of family law, there is a comprehensive review course which taught me more about family law than I ever knew was possible. I contend that most specialization disciplines offer a similar comprehensive review course to help you not only prepare for the legal specialization exam but also present a unique opportunity for you to deepen your knowledge of your own field.

But there is more to specialization than taking an exam and adding another test to your personal pass rate.


If you were searching for a medical doctor with expertise specific to your issue, wouldn’t you search for a specialist? The same is true for our legal clients. 

There are thousands of family law attorneys in California, but as of December 2014, only 1,328 who are Certified Family Law Specialists (2014 CBLS Annual Report). Standing out from the crowd is a great advantage in gaining clientele. 
Certification as a Specialist will grant you a unique listing on the California State Bar website which will allow potential clients to locate you and your office via area of specialty, using the attorney search function. For example, my profile is found in the list of certified family law specialists. Only Specialists are given this listing with the State Bar. Only attorneys who have earned the certified legal specialist designation may hold themselves out as “certified specialists.” The public may rely on the fact that certified legal specialists have taken the time and care to demonstrate their proficiency in their practice areas. Not only are you given the State Bar listing, you can also identify yourself as a Certified Specialist with a specialized badge for your website, which signals to clients and professionals alike that you are a specialist.  

But, Certification is not just an advantageous way to bring clients in your door; it is also a great referral source when you need to send a client out. I am more confident in referring clients to legal specialists because I know that certification of specialization means that the attorney has a higher level of experience, knowledge and reputation.


As a board certified specialist, you will have demonstrated to the public and the State Bar a higher level of experience, intellect, ethics, expertise, skill and reputation through both the testing and the application process. The requirements to become a specialist can be found at the State Bar website by clicking on the link to your area of practice.

As a family law attorney, my clients are either at the onset, or the height, of one of the most difficult experiences of their lives. Oftentimes, their case is complicated by child custody, asset and debt division, and spousal support. These clients are searching for expert attorneys who can guide them not only through the issues of their case, but also help them through the dissolution of their marriage, or their domestic partnership. Clients want and need to be confident in the attorney they have chosen, and my certification as a family law specialist gives them that confidence – especially once they know and understand what it means to be represented by a specialist.

The basic premise of legal specialization is to encourage attorney competence and protect our clients. A specialist stands out from other legal professionals with proven qualifications, experience and ethics which only aid in bolstering the client’s confidence in the attorney-specialist. Certifications also informs your opposing counsel that you are experienced, skilled and ethical; and, it can often help set the tone for discussions with your opposition and lend to more respect.


Becoming a Certified Family Law Specialist has opened doors and has exposed me to various organizations and colleagues who are passionate about my field of law. For example, I can now enroll and participate in the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists, whose primary mission is to advance the knowledge and rapport of Family Law Specialists. I also now have the opportunity to volunteer for the California Board of Legal Specialization and help others achieve their professional goals, just as I did.

When I received the results and the congratulatory letter that I had passed the Certification Exam, it was a defining moment in my career and one of my most cherished accomplishments. It sets me apart from my peers and tells the public that I have a higher level of experience, intellect, expertise, skill and reputation. I encourage you to become a specialist, if not for the clients or the profession, but for yourself.

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