What does it mean to be a Certified Family Law Specialist?

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You may be aware that two of the attorneys at Ellsworth Family Law, Steven M. Ellsworth and Glenn D. Halterman, are family law specialists. And while you probably assume that the designation of “specialist” means that they spend a considerable amount of time working on family law-related matters, being a Certified Family Law Specialist in Arizona means much more.

Although there are approximately 18,000 attorneys currently licensed to practice law in Arizona, only a very small percentage of those attorneys are specialists in their area of practice. In fact, of those 18,000 attorneys, there are currently only 65 who are Certified Family Law Specialists by the State Bar of Arizona (for the statistically-minded that equates to less than 1% of the Arizona attorney population). Several other practice areas also offer specialist certification (such as criminal law, personal injury, or tax law).

In order to become a Certified Family Law Specialist in Arizona, an applicant must meet certain strict requirements. Among these requirements are the following:

  • The applicant must have practiced law a minimum of 7 years. During at least 5 of those years the attorney must have devoted at least 70% of his practice to family law matters.
  • An applicant must demonstrate honesty and integrity, professionalism as defined by the Lawyer’s Creed of Professionalism of the State Bar of Arizona, and a high degree of competence in the practice of Family Law. The required degree of competence is substantially higher than that possessed by a general practitioner who regularly handles Family Law matters. For purposes of demonstrating a “high degree of competence” an applicant must meet the following standards:
    • The applicant shall demonstrate a high degree of skill, thoroughness, preparation, effectiveness, professionalism, and judgment in the field of Family Law;
    • The applicant shall demonstrate a substantially complete knowledge of and high degree of skill in the use of alternative dispute resolution as it applies in the field of Family Law.
    • The applicant shall pass a written examination on topics relating to Family Law and shall include substantive law, rules of practice, procedure, evidence, and ethics pertaining to the area of Family Law.
    • The applicant shall demonstrate a substantially complete knowledge of substantive law and rules of practice, procedure, evidence, and ethics pertaining to Family Law;

If an applicant successfully fulfills all of the requirements for specialist certification, including passing the aforementioned written exam that frequently stumps attorneys who have been in practice for many years, then he or she is given the designation of a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of Arizona. Receiving that designation as a “specialist” carries with it significant meaning and benefits. Until that time, it is unethical for any attorney to hold themselves out to be a “specialist” in any field of law. Therefore, when you see that an attorney has attained their certification as a specialist in a particular field of practice, you can have an added degree of confidence that you are in good hands.

As stated above, a Certified Family Law Specialist must possess a degree of competence that is “substantially higher” than a general practitioner who regularly handles Family Law matters. Steve and Glenn have been able to attain and sustain that standard of competence by focusing on one area of law and becoming experts in that field. They agree that in today’s complex legal world there is much to be said for doing one thing, and doing it well.

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