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Legal specialization offers unique perks

By Michael Berg

Michael BergAs a State Bar-certified specialist since 1996, I’d like to encourage you to consider taking the legal specialist examination on Oct. 27. If you miss this one, the next exam won’t be offered until 2017.

If you're thinking, “There is no way I would sit through another exam like the California Bar Exam,” fear not. Unlike the bar exam, the exam lasts only one day and does not require countless hours of preparation. In fact, 72 percent passed the last legal specialist exam in 2013.

Any attorney committed to a practice area should be up for the challenge of taking the exam. No special skill set or knowledge is required other than the knowledge one develops when practicing. The exam is not easy, but it is certainly not impossible to pass. The questions are developed by attorneys who practice law in that particular field based on real-life situations. So if you practice regularly in your field, you definitely have the skills and knowledge to pass.

The State Bar also provides previous exam questions online as a study tool, and private companies provide preparation classes.

Certification brings referrals

Over the last 20 years, numerous clients have told me they hired me based on my specialist certification. These clients told me that if they were seeking medical care, they would want an individual who was a specialist in that practice area.

The same thought process goes into hiring an attorney. Standing out from my colleagues is one of the many reasons to become a certified specialist. There are thousands of criminal defense attorneys, but less than 400 criminal law specialists in California. Certification provides a way to grow my practice while instilling confidence and a unique comfort level for my clients. If you were a client choosing between two attorneys to represent you – one who was certified and one who was not – which would you choose?

Consumers can also find me by my specialty practice area on the State Bar website using the attorney search function. I also have my certification on my State Bar profile, bringing potential clients to my website at

When I need to refer an individual to another attorney either outside my practice area or outside San Diego, I feel confident referring people to certified specialists in any of the 22 practice areas around California. And I am keenly aware that other attorneys refer clients to me based on my certification.

Certification shows I care about my clients

As a criminal defense attorney, I regularly meet people when they are scared, nervous and afraid. Not only are they unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, but they are now forced to make one of the most important decisions in their lives: hiring an attorney to defend them. I want my clients to be confident that I have the ability to do whatever it takes to defend them. My certification as a specialist immediately helps build that confidence.

Clients feel less pressure from the system knowing that their attorney has the capability that comes with being a certified specialist. Even if an individual hasn’t worked with an attorney before and may not know exactly what certification is, once explained to them it always eases any nerves. When I meet new prosecutors and lawyers, my certification gives me an immediate level of respect. Certification lets people know that I have a great deal of experience and respect from my peers, and it sets the right tone for discussing the case.

Certification helps build camaraderie

As I become more involved in the legal specialization program as a volunteer member of the California Board of Legal Specialization, I get to see firsthand the care the group takes to set strong certification standards, help attorneys meet those standards and do the best they can for their clients. The program helps create an active community that is continuously striving for excellence, whether it is by meeting rigorous standards or keeping a commitment to continuing education. Although we are advocates and work hard for our clients, it is also important that we get along to maintain civility.

Becoming a certified specialist was a defining moment in my career. It set me apart from my peers and is definitely one of my proudest accomplishments. Do it for your clients. Do it for your profession. But most importantly, do it for yourself.

Michael Berg is a criminal defense attorney in solo practice in San Diego. He is also a member of the California Board of Legal Specialization.

Register for the examination by Oct. 1 to take it on Oct. 27. You are eligible if you have been practicing in the specialty since January 2014. The next examination takes place in 2017. Learn more at