"I am needing a lawyer but not quite sure (of) the difference between board certified or not. Some of the main ones in Memphis are not certified. What exactly does that mean?"
-- "Laura" of Selmer, TN
In Tennessee, "certified" can be a confusing term when it comes to lawyers. Being certified doesn't necessarily make one lawyer better than another. My lawyer, for example, is also a certified fraud examiner, but even so, he cannot advertise that he "specializes" in fraud litigation.
The bottom line is in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, a lawyer doesn't have to be certified in anything to practice law, period. The requirements are graduating from law school, passing the state bar exam AND getting licensed by the state where the lawyer intends to practice. That's important because there are plenty of folks who pass the bar, but don't get licensed. In order to practice law, they must do both.
Lawyers who are certified in certain fields and who advertise as such must reveal in their advertising who the certifying organization is, according to Memphis Bar Association Executive Director Anne Fritz.
Mississippi Bar Association General Counsel Adam Kilgore says in Mississippi, lawyers who advertise that they are "certified" or "specialists" may do so as long as the American Bar Association has accredited the certifying organization. Those lawyers must include the name of that organization in their advertising. If they are certified by a non-ABA accredited organization, they may advertise as such as long as they disclose that "...there is no procedure in Mississippi for approving certifying or designating organizations and authorities (Rule 7.6 Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct).
Arkansas Bar Association President Rosalind Mouser says the Arkansas Supreme Court must sign off on a lawyer's certification or certifying organization.
Your state and local bar associations are still your best resource for shopping lawyers. Please note that some bar associations' memberships are voluntary (Arkansas, for example).
Here are the links to the bar associations:
Memphis Area Legal Services is a non-profit law firm that provides free representation for low income applicants who qualify: www.malsi.org, 901-523-8822.