As many of you may know, I hold a California State Bar certificate of specialization in both bankruptcy and tax law. You probably don’t see many California attorneys advertising this. That’s because fewer than five percent of lawyers in California have taken the special exam and continuing legal education courses necessary to obtain this certificate, and gone through the rest of the vetting process. Clients often ask what’s involved in getting this specialization certificate. Here’s the answer.

What Does it Take to Become Specialized by the California State Bar?

The California Bar Association offers Certificates of Specialization in eleven areas of law: Admiralty Appellate, Bankruptcy, Criminal, Estates & Trusts, Family Law, Franchise, Immigration, Malpractice, Taxation and Worker’s Compensation. 

The process to become a Certified Specialist is lengthy and fairly involved. First, the attorney must take an all-day exam in the speciality area; the exam consists of both multiple choice and essay questions.

Second, if that exam is passed, then the lawyer submits an application that is review by the Board of Specialization to ensure the applicant has met the additional criteria. Third, the attorney must practice primarily in that area of the law. Fourth, the lawyer must either have authored and published, or participated in numerous trials or administrative proceedings in the legal subject area.

Fifth, the lawyer must obtain at least one letter of recommendation from a judge or Trustee, and several from other attorneys, including attorneys from the opposing side of cases the lawyer has been involved in. Finally, the specialist attorney must take 45 hours of continuing legal education annually, in contrast to only 15 hours annually for a regular attorney. In short, the Bar Association of California really wants specialists to know their area of the law. 

Here are the official requirements for the tax specialization and the bankruptcy specialization.

Why Did I Become A Certified Specialist?

When clients hear what was involved in getting my certificates of specialization, they often  “Why did you do it? That’s a lot of work and it’s not required for you to practice tax or bankruptcy law.” True.

But, I love taking tests. Seriously. I’ve been a geek since childhood. I love rising to the challenge of a really comprehensive test. I *loved* studying and taking the bar exam (in Texas and Pennsylvania, in addition to California!). I know that makes me freak-adjacent but I can’t help it. I was born that way.

I also wanted the assurance that I know as much as I possibly can about my legal practice areas. I deliberately focus on only tax and bankruptcy law because I want to be an expert in those two areas and nothing else. Going through the specialization certification convinced me that I am, in fact, entirely qualified to give excellent counsel in these two areas of the law.

July 7, 2023

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