If you do an Internet search, you will notice that there are quite a few lawyers who claim to be recognized as some type of "Top 100 Lawyers". It seems that there are more of these popping up every year. I generally average about an invitation a month to join some type of group, whether it be Top 100 criminal lawyers, Top 100 DWI lawyers, or something else. An example can be found here. I counted just the lawyers in Texas, and there were more than 100 of them. There were some good lawyers in there; but there far more lawyers that I have never heard of.
So how do you get on one of those sites. The only requirement for the vast majority of these websites in selecting an attorney to be listed is that the attorney has a credit card to pay the fee to be on this website! In short, it is nothing more than a marketing scam, to make you think the lawyer has some type of special credentials. The designation suggests you have some special expertise, or passed some type of exam, when in fact the only test is whether your check clears.
Are there legitimate certifications?
With all these organizations floating around, you need to be aware of the organizations that do make an attempt to evaluate lawyers. The oldest one is Martindale-Hubbell. It has been around for years, and back in the day all of the big firms had books in their offices which had a list of lawyers in different areas.
Martindale-Hubbell has a special rating system; the highest rating you can get is "AV Rated." . These ratings are based on confidential peer reviews of judges and fellow lawyers.
Legal Ability Ratings take into consideration the standard of professional ability in the area where the lawyer practices, the lawyer's expertise, and other professional qualifications. If a lawyer's practice is limited or specialized, Peer Review Ratings are based on performance in those specific fields of law.
Legal Ability Ratings are:
C - Good to High
B - High to Very High
A - Very High to Preeminent
According to Martindale-Hubbell, an “AV Peer Review Rating” — “shows that a lawyer has reached the height of professional excellence. He or she has usually practiced law for many years, and is recognized for the highest levels of skill and integrity.”
Martindale-Hubbell takes the rating process seriously. Every year they send out a number of questionairres, asking lawyers to rate other lawyers in the area. They are asked to assign a rating to the lawyer, or state they aren't familiar with their eperience or reputation. The end result is a rating system based on how lawyers feel about a lawyer. Lawyers know who the good lawyers are, as well as the bad ones, and that is reflected in the Martindale-Hubbell rating.
It is important to recognize that these ratings are not some poll from a random magazine of the best/greatest/most awesome lawyers that subscribe to the magazine and send out emails to other law firms telling them if they vote for their lawyers their lawyers will vote for them. Sounds like a junior high school election, not an unbiased selection of the top lawyers. The truth is that most of the votes cast in a magazine poll are by people who have not only never seen the other lawyer in action in court, but have never even met the other lawyer and wouldn’t recognize him if he was sitting next to him. More and more of the magazines and publications are popping up every week; the only criteria they use for selection is whether the lawyer is desperate enough to fall for their sales pitch and has the money to the write their check.
This is site that is relatively new to the game. Avvo gives a rating to each lawyer, with the highest rating being a 10. While its not clear how they come up their ratings, they do take into account recommendations from other attorneys, as well as consumers. Avvo was meant to fill a void for consumers, and a lot of lawyers don't like. For better or worse, its here to stay. Potential clients want some objective basis to compare lawyers, and this attempts to do that.
In Texas, lawyers can be certified as specialists in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. To be certified you must have at least 5 years of experience, and devote a significant portion of their practice to criminal cases. The lawyer must also have a minimum number of trials and appeals, and have the recommendation of the judges and lawyers they practice with. The lawyer must also pass a comprehensive exam which tests their knowledge of criminal law. Certification ensures that the lawyer has experience in criminal law, and has the knowledge necessary to be considered a specialist.
Only a small percentage of lawyers in Texas are “Board Certified” Out of * of lawyers in the State, there only * who are certified in criminal law. Certification is not something that you simply obtain after practicing a number of years. The process of a certification is a rigorous one. The committee contacts judges who you appeared before, as well as lawyers you worked on cases with, and obtains their input. You cannot simply references from people who know and like you. Once they are assured that you possess the necessary experience, you then have to pass a comprehensive all day exam designed to test your knowledge of criminal law. The certification process is designed to ensure that you possess both the qualifications and experience, as well as the knowledge to be considered a specialist.
Once you are certified that’s not the end of it. Every lawyer must be re-certified every years. While you don’t have to take another test, you do have to show you are still actively involved in criminal defense, and input is again obtained from judges and lawyers.
This is probably the best method to evaluate lawyers, since it involves a combitation of experience, recommendations from lawyers and judges, and demonstrated proficiency. While not all lawyers choose to obtain certification, those that do show they are willing to comply with the higher standards imposed by the Board of Legal Specialization, and commit to keeping up with the law.
Don't be fooled
It's easy to make claims on the internet, and almost can appear extremely qualified. Don't simply accept the claims you see. Check them out, and make sure the claims being made are accurate.