An attorney who holds a valid Washington State Bar license is, technically, qualified to render legal advice to a client concerning any subject. But the “womb-to-tomb” general practitioner seems to be in decline; the information age has given rise to savvier clients who might expect a degree of specialization — or greater experience — with the legal services rendered. Yet the legal profession has historically resisted allowing attorneys to designate themselves as specialists in an area of practice.
A short history of legal specialization
For much of the legal profession’s history, lawyers were prohibited from marketing themselves as holding any form of specialization. It was not until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona that it was unconstitutional to prohibit lawyers to advertise. The High Court added to this jurisprudence in 1990 when, in Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee, it held that an attorney, within limits, could advertise about their specific specialties.
From this case law developed ethical rules concerning advertising. Under Washington’s Rule of Professional Conduct 7.4, attorneys may advertise using the terms “certified,” “specialist,” “expert,” or similar designations provided the attorney is issued a verifiable certificate, award, or recognition by a group, organization, or association, and the attorney identifies the certifying group in the advertisement, and also states that the Supreme Court of Washington does not recognize certification of specialties in the practice of law and that the certificate, award, or recognition is not a requirement to practice law in the state of Washington.
WSBA Sections can help lawyers build a specialty
Attorneys interested in developing a deeper understanding in a specific area of the law — and potentially qualifying for a specialty designation — will benefit from joining one of the WSBA’s 27 practice sections, especially newer members who may need an added nudge of guidance. There are practical benefits to joining a section: members receive discounted and free CLEs, access to networking events, helpful newsletters, and have access to and use of email list serves, the value of which can’t be overstated. But more than these practical benefits, section members are supported by other members, the collective wisdom of whom is a priceless resource.
RSVP by Jan. 9 for Open Sections Night: Jan. 16, 2014
The WSBA’s Young Lawyer Committee is hosting its Fourth Annual Open Sections Night on Jan. 16, 2014. At the event, attendees can learn more about each section; section leaders and members will also be present to answer questions and provide additional information. The event will take place at the WSBA Conference Center (1501 4th Ave., Ste. 308, Seattle) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Light appetizers and beverages will be served, and those who join a section on that evening will be entered to win a prize. If you plan to attend, please RSVP by Jan. 9, 2014, to firstname.lastname@example.org.