ABPLA President

February 7, 2019

Forty-eight years ago, in February of 1971, the first attorney specialization certification program in the United States was announced by the State Bar of California, California Board of Legal Specialization. Notably, it began operations in 1973 with three practice areas initially available: workers' compensation, criminal law, and tax law. (The program has expanded to certification in approximately 12 select areas of law today).


You will be proud to know that the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys was first organized in 1972. Without doubt, our organization has led for 47 years as one of the oldest board certification organizations for attorneys. Just to give you some depth, it was in 1973, at the Sonnett Memorial Lecture at Fordham Law School, that Chief Justice Warren Burger stated... "Some system of certification for trial advocates is an imperative and long overdue step."  We had already been in existence for one year by the time the Chief Justice stated the obvious need.


Between 1971 through 1990 seven specialty boards were formed. Five of these boards were formed by the states of California, Texas, Florida, Minnesota and North Carolina, while two of these boards were formed by not-for-profit organizations, namely the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA) and the National Board of Trial Advocates (NBTA, which was formed in 1977). All of these boards have been in continuous operation since formation and their relationships are truly collaborative. I have learned this firsthand in recent months in working with our Executive Director, Reeve McNamara. Reeve has had to endure my naiveté as he has patiently brought me up to procedural speed while dealing with the interaction of all of the certifying boards, as well as the American Bar Association.


The American Bar Association became a guiding force for legal specialization beginning, at least, in the early 1990s. The ABA developed accreditation standards, and the ABA formed a Standing Committee on Specialization.  Legal specialization continued to grow from the early 1990s to present. In addition to the five state boards noted above, six more states developed specialization programs including, Arizona, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Accordingly, as of today, there are a total of 11 state boards and 7 nonprofit national boards which offer approximately 49 specialization areas.


Last month, Reeve and I attended the ABA Standing Committee on Specialization meeting held in conjunction with the ABA winter convention. Given that ABPLA standards meet, and exceed, the ABA accreditation standards, 23 states accept ABPLA board certification without more. Certain states, however, including California, Texas and Florida, require more. I am happy to report that your ABPLA board certification is recognized by all states in the United States save for Maine, Maryland, Oklahoma and West Virginia. (Even in these states we have board certified lawyers). With respect to the ABA, we are approved through 2023. With respect to the other states, thanks to Reeve's hard work, we remain current and are on top of all ongoing requirements by those states. So, were this a "state of the union", ABPLA remains strong!


However, our work has not even scratched the surface of what needs to be done. Just consider this: approximately 82% of physicians attain board certification. Contrast that with approximately 3% of the total lawyers that attain board certification.


So, once again I call upon each of you to get involved! We have many committees that are continuing the active work of ABPLA.  The Membership Committee constantly examines the membership criteria of our organization (which is an ongoing active debate), and develops outreach in order to actively recruit eligible attorneys. The Conference Committee plans our annual conference, arranges for speakers, sponsorships, exhibitors and otherwise handles all aspects of our Medical/Legal Conference. Our Advisory Committee looks to long-term planning of our organization, itself. Our Board is diverse and active. So, please get involved. Many of our diplomate's speak at various conferences throughout the United States. We have developed a short PowerPoint presentation that can be given at the introduction or conclusion of each such speech. The benefits of board certification are briefly discussed. Please contact Reeve ([email protected]), and ......... get involved.


Lastly, if you did not do it last month, stop what you are doing right now and calendar May 2-4, 2019 at the Park Lane Hotel in New York City. That is the date of our National Legal & Medical Malpractice Conference. It is a unique three-day CLE for both plaintiff and defense attorneys who have an interest in professional liability. We have an all-star faculty.


I look forward to a busy February and an even more busy March. Reeve and I will likely be attending the ABA National Specialization Roundtable in Chicago on Monday, March 25, 2019. May is right around the corner. I hope to see you all in New York City!



Randall H. Scarlett
Scarlett Law Group
536 Pacific Avenue
Barbary Coast Building
San Francisco, CA  94133
415-352-6265 (fax)