Messages from the President

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)

ABPLA PresidentJanuary 22, 2019

First of all, Happy New Year! This year has started off with a "bang" at the ABPLA.  The subcommittees we formed at the Board Meeting last year in Chicago hit the pavement running, and their work guarantees a phenomenal year for our organization. But, more about that later.


I start by referring to a law review article written by our esteemed Vice President, Thomas P. Sartwelle.  Tom was published in the South Texas College of Law Houston Law Review, Volume 59, Fall 2017, Number I. The title of his article was, "Trial Lawyers, Plumbers, and Electricians: Should They All Be Certified?"


Tom reminds us that... "Four decades ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger made the point that for centuries, society has imposed standards on 'certain human activities [affecting] large numbers of people.' Examples included occupations like teachers, doctors and, in more modern times, electricians, plumbers, and other trades. A glaring omission from those occupations, the Chief Justice pointed out, was trial lawyers. Those engaged in protecting and vindicating rights in civil and criminal courtrooms were neither tested nor licensed beyond the passing score on a general knowledge bar examination. Burger explained: '[W]e are more casual about qualifying the people we allow to act as advocates in the courtrooms than we are about licensing our electricians."


In light of this obvious "cry to arms", we must really ask each other, how far have we progressed?  I certainly recommend each of you obtain a copy of Tom's well thought out law review article, but I also challenge you to do more. Get involved! Join a subcommittee of ABPLA.  Come to our annual conference in New York this May. Help your community understand how important board certification is. Raise the bar, and help your trial lawyer brothers and sisters.


I challenge each of you, as you are reading this, to immediately calendar our conference. It will be held from May 2 -4, 2019, at the Park Lane Hotel in New York City. (I know, springtime in New York is horrible, isn't it?).


Our National Legal and Medical Malpractice Conference is a unique three day CLE for both plaintiff and defense attorneys. It is a must attend event for those who truly wish to perfect their practice and connect with those who are setting the standards in our highly specialized fields of practice.  We have an all-star faculty that has been assembled, both plaintiff's lawyers, defense lawyers, and physicians, who will truly provide the most exciting CLE imaginable. I look forward to seeing all of you in New York!


I close this month's address, as I began, with reference to Tom's law review article: "It is... past time for the legal profession to acknowledge the voices from decades past urging the recognition of specialization certification and implementation of true objectively verifiable competence. Now is the time to institute a pre--or post-licensing specialty certification process leading to trained legal specialists reflecting the professionalism that is called for so often but that is lacking after decades of effort. Changing the paradigm will be difficult. But if not now, when?"




May 6, 2018


As the newest President of the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA), it is my honor and privilege to follow the extraordinary leadership of those before me, Richard B. Collins, William F. McMurry & William C. Callaham, and Tommy Malone. The dynamic energy, dedication, and guidance of these attorneys, not only expanded ABPLA's Board Certified Specialists and influence, but also positioned the ABPLA to be one of the premier national lawyer organizations accredited by the American Bar Association. The ABPLA is now leading the movement to serve the public by certifying the competency, integrity, and ethics of those lawyers who represent clients in the highly complex cases of medical and legal malpractice law.

The ABPLA is an organization that embraces and promotes the highest standards in the legal profession. It was founded in 1973, in the wake of US Supreme Court Justice Warren E. Burger's observations that our country suffered from a "low state of American trial advocacy and a consequent diminution in the quality of our entire system of justice". Chief Justice Burger believed that the creation of a system to certify trial advocates in specialties was an "imperative long overdue step," that would ultimately determine "the quality of our justice." of trial advocates in specialties was "imperative and". The ABPLA met this challenge and continues to serve our justice system through its certification of legal specialties in two of the most complex areas of l the legal profession: medical and legal malpractice.

Since the ABPLA was first organized, professional negligence law has become increasingly complex, requiring lawyers to become specialists in the nuances of legal or medical negligence in order to serve their clients competently and effectively. In such an environment, the need is ever greater to provide consumers with an objective standard by which to assess professional negligence attorneys. Board certification provides such a benchmark.

It is the ABPLA's continuing mission to certify attorneys according to the highest standards of experience, ethics, education, examination and excellence. Through the rigorous certification process, the ABPLA offers the consumers of legal services a clear standard of excellence for selecting medical and legal malpractice attorneys in whom they can have confidence. It is our goal to identify and certify exceptional professional attorneys in every state, and to make available to prospective clients the names of those board-certified attorneys.

For attorneys specializing in professional negligence liability, the ABPLA serves as a unifying voice, to raise our visibility as leaders to our fellow attorneys, and prospective clients in need of assistance.  

As President, my continued goal will be to increase public awareness of the importance of selecting a board-certified attorney as well as to seek out the most experienced and competent attorneys to achieve board certification in professional and legal negligence matters.

I hope that each of you will join me in order to continue the strong heritage of our organization and its' noble purpose. I look forward to serving you as president. If there is anything I can do to personally assist you, please let me know.

Yours very truly,


Randall H. Scarlett
Scarlett Law Group
536 Pacific Avenue
San Francisco, Ca.  94133
[email protected]
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