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What does 'board certified in marital and family law' mean?

When you are looking for an experienced attorney to handle your divorce, to help with a child support or custody issue or to review a prenuptial agreement before you sign, you naturally want the most experienced and most highly skilled lawyer around. A quick search of the Florida Bar Association's directory comes up with dozens of licensed attorneys in Fort Myers alone. How do you narrow down the field?

There are a host of subjective ways to find an attorney. You can get referrals from people you trust. You can scan the newspapers to see if one name comes up more often than others. You can review websites to see if one attorney or one firm stands out on a gut level. This is all important information for your choice, but, again, it is subjective.

Board certification is an objective measure of an attorney's knowledge, skill and proficiency in a practice area. Board certified attorneys are an elite group -- just 7 percent of all eligible members of the state bar -- that have met strict standards set by the Florida Supreme Court for 25 individual practice areas.

When you see that a family law attorney is board certified, you know at once that he or she has been practicing law for at least five years. More importantly, you know that at least 50 percent of the last five years was spent on marital and family law matters, including at least 25 contested cases and at least seven trials.

You also know that the attorney has kept those family law skills fresh by attending at least 75 hours of approved continuing legal education. You know, too, that the attorney's peers have endorsed him or her as an especially skilled family law lawyer.

The truly objective measure of the attorney's proficiency, however, is a written exam that includes both multiple choice and essay questions testing much more than the attorney's knowledge of the law. There are certainly questions about the rules of evidence, property division, custody and support -- there are even questions about mediation and domestic violence.

All of these are vital to the practice of marital and family law, but the exam goes one or two steps further: It also addresses matters of ethics and judgment.

So, when you are looking for an attorney to handle your own case, remember that the Florida Supreme Court has taken a lot of the guess work out of the process for you.

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