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NBTA Board Certification

The National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) is a non-profit organization located in Boston, Massachusetts. Founded in 1977, NBTA is dedicated to bettering the quality of trial advocacy in our nation’s courtrooms and assisting the consumer of legal services in finding experienced and highly qualified trial lawyers.
NBTA was housed, and fully supported by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America until its move to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1987 when it became an independent nonprofit corporation.

NBTA is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) to certify lawyers in the specialty areas of civil, criminal and family law trial advocacy. The organization went through a rigorous application process wherein panels were chosen by the ABA-Standing Committee on Specialization to evaluate each aspect of NBTA’s structure. This review included not only NBTA’s standards and certification policies but also an intensive evaluation of all aspects of the operation from financial solvency to a complete screening of all decision makers.

The NBTA philosophy is that bona fide attorney certification programs– particularly in trial advocacy–can substantially advance the public interest.

NBTA’s areas of certification are civil, criminal and family law trial advocacy. The standards set forth by the Board of Directors are challenging and meaningful. NBTA is a voluntary certification. It is not a requirement to practice law and, therefore, any lawyer who has taken the extra time and effort to achieve this credential can be justifiably proud. A consumer of legal services who chooses an NBTA member can be sure of obtaining a highly experienced trial law practitioner.

It is important to note that every NBTA board certified attorney has met all the standards (Civil, Criminal, or Family Law) for initial certification and recertification.
The standards are as follows:

* Good Standing: Applicants must be a member of the bar in good standing. All applicants submit a comprehensive history of professional conduct and disclose any disciplinary action, past or pending. Disclosures of misconduct are reviewed and ruled on by three members of the Board of Directors who serve as the Standards Committee, to determine the severity and implication thereof in granting the attorney board certification.
* Concentration in the Specialty of Trial Advocacy: A minimum of 30% concentration in the field in which the attorney seeks certification for at least the three years immediately preceding application.
* Writing Sample: Submission of a writing sample in the form of a trial brief, prepared by the applicant, and submitted to a court of law within the three years immediately preceding application for certification.
* Continuing Legal Education: Participation in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in the three years immediately preceding application. The educational seminars must pertain to trial advocacy in the field in which the attorney seeks certification.
* Judicial and Attorney Peer Review: Provision of three judges and three attorneys familiar with the applicant’s courtroom abilities.
* Trials: Lead counsel in a number of trials to verdict or judgment and a sampling of other trial and courtroom skills that are documented in checklist form.
* Lead Counsel in Contested Matters: In addition to the trials, all applicants must document lead counsel in 40 contested matters involving the taking of evidence, such as hearings, motions or depositions.
* Examination: Applicants must successfully pass the NBTA examination which is an all essay, trial techniques, evidence and ethics exam lasting six hours. The exam is written and graded by trial lawyers and law professors. The exam process is overseen by the NBTA Examination Committee and Board of Examiners. The Chair is Yale Law School Professor, Stephen Wizner.

Once an attorney has met and documented the standards for NBTA certification Civil, Criminal, or Family Law), he or she remains an active member for five years, subject to annual reporting which continues to meet the requirements of the Standards Committee. All members have an ongoing responsibility to inform NBTA of any misconduct which may arise during the course of the certification.
Good standing is also confirmed on an annual basis by way of a formal annual reporting component of the NBTA certification. All misconduct matters are reviewed and ruled upon in the same fashion as initial certification. Once the five year period is completed, the member is required to apply for recertification.

NBTA’s certification procedures are widely recognized as exemplary.
The Task Force on Lawyer Competence of the Conference of Chief Justices found in a 1982 report that:

The National Board of Trial Advocacy, a national certification program that provides recognition for superior achievement in trial advocacy, uses a highly-structured examination to select its members…

[Certification by the National Board of Trial Advocacy is an arduous process that employs a wide range of assessment methods and entails considerable cost to the candidate.

As the US Supreme Court stated in their opinion:

“There is no dispute about the bona fides and the relevance of NBTA certification. The [Attorney Registration and Disciplinary] Commission’s concern about the possibility of deception in hypothetical cases is not sufficient to rebut the constitutional presumption favoring disclosure over concealment. Disclosure of information such as that on petitioner’s letterhead both serves the public interest and encourages the development and utilization of meritorious certification programs for attorneys.”

Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois, 110 S.Ct. 2281, (1990).

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