Civil Trial Specialist; Is It a Big Deal?

Robert Edwards Jan. 30, 2015

Over the past couple of weeks the news media in the Twin Cities has been reporting on a trial taking place in federal court in Minneapolis involving Toyota and the issue of whether they are responsible for cases of uncontrollable acceleration on some of their vehicles. If you read the reports on the trial it sounds like any reasonably competent attorney could be representing the plaintiffs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Starting in the late 1970s it became apparent to the plaintiff's bar that finding a way to distinguish lawyers who make their living in the courtroom from lawyers who do not, was something that would benefit consumers. Accordingly, the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) was formed by some distinguished trial lawyers. They established criteria and standards which lawyers had to meet in order to be certified as Civil Trial Specialists. Not only did this require demonstrating a significant amount of actual trial experience, but it called for letters of recommendation from judges and opposing attorneys, as well as passage of a grueling day long examination.

In 1987 I became the first lawyer in Anoka County to receive this certification, and I have been recertified multiple times over the ensuing years.

One of the things that I do to give back to the profession is participate in something called case evaluation clinics at the Minnesota Association for Justice. In those clinics other lawyers bring in cases and a panel of three lawyers reviews them and offers advice on how best to proceed. Last Tuesday I participated in another one of these clinics and I was struck by the amount of assistance some lawyers need to handle complex cases. In the two cases that we reviewed that day, there were literally dozens of suggestions that were made by the panel which, in my opinion, should not have been necessary. The lawyers getting the advice were not Certified Civil Trial Specialists, yet they were retained by clients with significant injuries insignificant cases.

Recently I've been asked to take over two cases which other law firms had handled for a while. After looking at the files it quickly became apparent to me that these other law firms were not qualified to do this kind of work in the first place.

Consumers looking for a lawyer to represent them in a personal injury matter should look for lawyers who are Certified Trial Specialists. You wouldn't go to a family care physician for brain surgery, and likewise you shouldn't go to a family law lawyer for a personal injury matter, unless it is for a referral to a competent Certified Civil Trial Specialist.