ABPLA President

March 21, 2019


This past month I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with three legal giants, two past presidents of the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA), and the immediate past president of the National Board of Trial Advocates (NBTA).

In this, Part 3 of my March address, I share the unique insights I gained from speaking with Jack McGehee, the immediate past president of the National Board of Trial Advocates (NBTA).  Jack is board certified in medical malpractice by ABPLA and sits on our board as well.

Jack McGehee, is the senior partner at McGehee, Chang, Landgraf, located in Houston, Texas. Jack has more than 38 years of trial experience and has brought over 306 cases to verdict. He is board certified in medical malpractice and has served on the ABPLA board since the early 1990s. Jack is the immediate past president of the NBTA.

Q:  Jack, please give us your insights as to board certification. Why do you think it's important, and where is it heading?

A:  Five years ago I got a call from David Rapoport who asked me if I would consider becoming president of the NBTA.  My first response was to push back.  But then I thought about it.  And then Randy, I went from being neutral to being very desirous of the opportunity... very, very, humbled… and very aggressive at what I thought I could do. I took it on as a personal cause and I really believed in it through and through. 

And I'm so frustrated at the profiteers around the country making money off of referrals . . . referring our clients to would be "competent" counsel who they claim are Super or Best. Unlike us, those groups don't have the urgency, the mission, to do it correctly and I think board certification, which I trademarked ("Board Certified-Proven, Tested Excellence” and is available for ABPLA members to use), should be the only criteria that clients use, or the biggest criteria.

We should mimic the medical profession where the first thing every patient asks her doctor is: “Are you board certified?"  And, over the years that has become the driving force.  Today 85% of the physicians are board certified and only 3% of the lawyers are board certified. And we need to change that paradigm and not give up ground to the profiteers who are only going to do things that make money.

So, I accepted and I wrote a five-year plan for the NBTA and it basically was, we are going to stop just certifying 5 specialty areas.  We are going to go out and certify every legitimate specialty area that we can.  I identified 22 areas, which was an arduous and painful process, and then started putting boards together, finding founding Presidents who could share the cause within that specialty. That was very difficult.

But now we have 10 board certification specialties on the assembly line waiting for board certification approval. Trucking became the first that made it through the process. Today you can become board certified in trucking accident law. Next will be immigration law. And, I think immigration has the biggest need for the country given this "so-called" immigration crisis.  There are so many lawyers willing to take money from desperate people without doing much of anything because they aren’t qualified. So I am truly committed in my heart that the future of our success is that board certification takes over the space dominated by the profiteers and offer immigration clients a better way to pick a qualified lawyer

Q:  How do we reach the public, because they do not know the value of board certification?

A:  Social media is going to have the greatest bang for the buck. It used to be billboards and telephone books or TV commercials, but that's been so diluted and the price points are so skewed… but social media can be used today to inform the clients looking for qualified lawyers.    And we are slowly moving there, but we need  a synergistic approach and social media is part of it. Need is also a part of it.  Let me give you an example:

We had a very disgusting experience in Houston following hurricane Harvey where there were quite a few lawyers out beating on the doors. Not necessarily qualified lawyers. Signing people up at 45% and taking a lien on their house to secure payment of their fee.

So the federal court had to decide which lawyer should be in charge.  The Judge  required  Statements of Interest from everyone who wanted to  lead the plaintiff’s side of the case.  What followed was a feeding frenzy.  There were 210 statements of interest submitted. And many of them were the guys who had never tried a case.  Sadly the federal court had no guidance to determine which of these folks were for real and which were not.  Imagine if you could become board certified in these kinds of cases.

So now fast forward to six months ago. One of the most distinguished federal judges who does MDL and who does class-action and who does mass torts agreed to be the founding president of the National Board of Complex Litigation Attorneys.  And for the first time the NBTA will  offer board certification for lawyers working in Complex cases. So, the next time there's a “beauty contest” for leadership, board certified lawyers should be the most "beautiful" [laughs]. And if that's the case, every lawyer should want to be board certified so that they can take part in leadership of class actions and other complex litigation.   We satisfied a need. We are doing that with patent and trademark, appellate law, immigration law,  health law and other specialty areas.  So your question is how do we get the word out?  I think we get the word out with the lawyers first, and then the lawyers are going to be talking about the benefits so much that I think it will take hold eventually. And while I don't have a formula to get there, I'm not going to just sit around and do nothing while the profiteers dominate.

Q:  Less cases are getting tried, it's evident from court dockets, and it's getting exponentially more expensive to try cases, so how do you maintain the degree of excellence in a shrinking trial environment?

A:  I’ve always been a proponent for the ABPLA to represent the best 100 or 200 people in the country.  The best of the best.  I never thought the ABPLA market should be 5000 board certified lawyers. So, I think, the cream of the crop, the truly most qualified  in our industry is you and the guys that did the hard things to become specialists.  ABPLA certification  shows the public that we've been there and tried cases... I'll tell you what, if you show me someone that has tried an injunction  or handled a bunch of hearings and put them up against you or an ABPLA  board certified trial lawyer in medical malpractice, it's a no-brainer who will succeed.  So I've never been in favor of relaxing the number of trials that are required. I don't think we should ever give that up.

Q:  So in terms of the NBTA, at present, how many specialties are currently offered?

A:  Now it’s about 10+6. We have 6 specialty areas that are approved by the ABA, and 10 that are on the assembly line.  And, as I said at the outset, I envision 22 total specialty areas.

Q:  Is the NBTA going to take the laboring oar in promoting each of the 22 specialty areas?

A:  Yes. We have produced three really good videos that are on the (NBTA) website.  They can be downloaded by our members. One is a client coming into a lawyer's office talking about board certification and, they are all really good and effective clips. In other words, once you get board certified, we'd like to give marketing ideas and marketing products to everybody who gets board certified so they can benefit from their certification. 


As you are all aware, the NBTA requested that ABPLA put on one of the  programs in New Orleans at the first ever NBTA All Star Conferences earlier this year.  The ABPLA nailed it.  The entire program was very, very well received.

 The NBTA does not offer board certification in the areas of medical malpractice or legal malpractice. Only ABPLA offers such certification, nationwide.

 As always, if you have not signed up for our conference this May in New York, immediately stop what you are doing, go to ABPLA.org, and sign up now.

Reeve and I leave Sunday for the ABA Roundtable.  I will let you know in April how the meetings progressed! 


Randall H. Scarlett
Scarlett Law Group
536 Pacific Avenue
Barbary Coast Building
San Francisco, CA  94133