Natalie Leonard

California was the first state in the United States to approve a legal certification program. The California program offers specialty certification in eleven legal practice areas. The State Bar also has recognized an additional eleven practice areas for certification through private entities accredited by the State Bar of California to certify such attorneys.

Under California Rule 1-400(D)(6), attorneys may advertise as certified specialists only if they are certified directly by The State Bar of California or an organization accredited by the State Bar to certify such attorneys.

Becoming a certified specialist

  • Why certify? Learn more about why to certify by watching this short video.
  • Read about one attorney's path to becoming a board certified legal specialist.
  • Happy Anniversary to those Certified Specialists reaching their 20th, 30th and 40th year in their specialty as of 2013. View a list of

    Certified Specialists celebrating these milestones as of 2013.

Future applicants: Although the next Certified Legal Specialist examination isn't until October 27, 2015, you can begin your preparation toward the other requirements by:

  • Documenting your tasks and standards
  • Register for the examination, which will be held in October 27, 2015 for all specialties

Applicants can find locations in Northern California and Southern California. The examination date and logistics will be posted in January 2015.

Rules and Standards

Welcome certification and recertification applicants!  To find the rules applicable to your situation please do the following:

A. If you wish to certify through any program administered directly by the State Bar:

  1. Legal Specialization Rules*: Please become familiar with Title 3, Division 2, Chapter 2 of the State Bar rules. These rules apply to all applicants, certified specialists, and recertifying specialists.
  2. Standards**: Next, review the article that contains the standards for your particular specialty. If you prefer, you can also look at the recertification application (for current specialists) or the post-exam application (for candidates) designed for your specialty which will lay out these requirements and show you what you will be filing after successful completion of the examination.

Article I. Appellate Law
Article II. Bankruptcy Law
Article III. Criminal Law
Article IV. Estate Law
Article V. Family Law
Article VI. Franchise Law
Article VII. Immigration Law
Article VIII. Taxation Law
Article IX. Workers' Compensation Law
Article X. Admiralty and Maritime Law
Article XI. Legal Malpractice Law

B.  If you wish to apply for certification through one of our national certifying partners, please contact that partner directly. You can learn more about the partners and their areas of certification here.

*Effective January 1, 2014, the rules governing Legal Specialization were reorganized to conform to the new organizational structure of the Rules of the State Bar. Because the current rules structure was adopted July 2007, all rules including the legal specialization rules are dated July 2007 in the header.

** These Standards must be read in conjunction with the rules. If there is a conflict between the Rules and the Article, the Rules control.


What is a California "certified" legal specialist?

California attorneys who are certified as specialists have taken and passed a written examination in their specialty field, demonstrated a high level of experience in the specialty field, fulfilled ongoing education requirements and been favorably evaluated by other attorneys and judges familiar with their work.

Only these attorneys can advertise or identify themselves as "certified" specialists in California because they are the only attorneys who are certified either by The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization or an organization whose certification program has been accredited by the State Bar. (Such an organization must have requirements for certification that are at least equal to those of the State Bar's program.)


Which areas does the California Board of Legal Specialization certify directly?

Eleven areas:

  1. Admiralty and Maritime Law
  2. Appellate Law
  3. Bankruptcy Law
  4. Criminal Law
  5. Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law
  6. Family Law
  7. Franchise and Distribution Law
  8. Immigration and Nationality Law
  9. Legal Malpractice Law
  10. Taxation Law
  11. Workers' Compensation Law


How can I find a certified legal specialist?

The State Bar's Legal Specialist Search will direct you to a list of specialty areas that are certified either by the State Bar or an organization accredited by the State Bar.

The State Bar of California's Board of Legal Specialization also accredits the following organizations, which certify attorneys in additional practice areas. These attorneys are also listed in the bar's specialist search database.

 1.   Business Bankruptcy Law (American Board of Certification)
 2.   Consumer Bankruptcy Law (American Board of Certification)
 3.   Creditors' Rights Law (American Board of Certification)
 4.   Civil Trial Advocacy (National Board of Trial Advocacy)
 5.   Criminal Trial Advocacy (National Board of Trial Advocacy)
 6.   Family Law Trial Advocacy (National Board of Trial Advocacy)
 7.   Social Security Disability Law (National Board of Trial Advocacy)
 8.   Elder Law (National Elder Law Foundation)
 9.   Accounting Malpractice (American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys)
10.  Legal Malpractice (American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys)
11.  Medical Malpractice (American Board of Professiional Liability Attorneys)
12.  Juvenile Law (Child Welfare) (National Association of Counsel for Children)