By Kirk Burkley
Managing Partner, Bernstein-Burkley
You have your choice between two doctors for an upcoming procedure. On paper, both are virtually identical in their impressive qualifications; however, one is board-certified while the other is not. Who do you choose?
The board-certified one, right? It feels like a no-brainer.
In 2020, Statista reported that there are 1.33 million lawyers in the United States, and the best way for attorneys to go the extra mile and stand out to clients is to become board-certified in their specialty practices. The benefits are two-fold: The certification provides clients assurance in an attorney’s professional training, and it also provides a certified attorney with a network like no other.
My law firm, Bernstein-Burkley, P.C.—with locations in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Wheeling—has more board-certified creditors’ rights and bankruptcy specialists in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania than any other law firm, which is quite the feat. There are many firms represented, but to be the one with the highest number of specialists is something I’m very proud of.
As President of the American Board of Certification, I know the importance of being ABC certified. And I not only believe that every attorney should strive for ABC certification, but at my firm I have also challenged every Bernstein-Burkley, P.C., attorney to achieve this goal, with the initiative “Path to ABC Certification.”
What is the Path to ABC Certification?
Our goal at Bernstein-Burkley, P.C., is to support every eligible attorney on their path to becoming ABC certified by 2025, a benchmark that accommodates the young attorneys just getting their start in the field. As a team, we want to show commitment to the industry we work in by demonstrating that we’re willing to rise above the rest when proving our talent and value to clients and connections.
ABC Certification programs consist of three areas, including Business Bankruptcy, Consumer Bankruptcy, and Creditors’ Rights. Certification involves:
- Having at least five years of law practice (on a full-time basis)
- Devoted at least 30% of practice to creditors’ rights or bankruptcy-related legal matters during the last 3 years
- 400 hours of practice time to creditors’ rights or bankruptcy-related legal matters during the last 3 years
- 60 hours of CLE within 36 months prior to the date of the application
- Long Form Application that consists of references from 4 attorneys familiar with the applicant’s practice and 5 other attorneys against whom the applicant has handled a matter
- An 8-hour exam that includes a two-hour multiple choice section, a 1-hour ethics essay exam, and a 3-hour sub-specialty essay exam
We’re already putting in the hours and dedication to meet many of these requirements, which is why we’re willing to go just a little further in illustrating our expertise, with the long form application and eight-hour examination.
Why Is It Important to Be ABC Certified
There are many different reasons why it’s important to be ABC certified. Of course, it’s a wonderful personal goal, but it’s also beneficial to both clients and colleagues.
Exemplifies proficiency and mastery.
For one thing, it gives you a bona fide boost, as you’re able to let the bankruptcy court, clients, and opposing counsel know that you’re well-trained in your practice area. But it’s not just ABC’s clout that helps. Congress recognized the importance of board certification by listing it as one of the factors when it comes to determining the amount of reasonable compensation to be awarded to Chapter 11 professionals under § 330(a) (3) of the Bankruptcy Code.
Allows you to join an association of top-flight practitioners.
After you become certified, you’re unofficially baptized into a networking group of like-minded practitioners. These lawyers are members of interesting committees and task forces, and value continuing education, professionalism, and a clear dedication to personal development in their careers. Since a lawyer often uses referral networks for work, when you become ABC-certified, you join a network of ABC-vetted specialists ideal for client referrals, which includes yourself.
You’re a cut above the rest.
While there are many first-rate lawyers who are not certified ABC attorneys and they flex their ability in other ways, the ABC certification provides an added boost to attorneys who may be going up against exemplary peers when it comes to attracting clients. ABC certification displays a willingness to go beyond the minimum, and this shows clients that ABC attorneys are willing to go beyond for them as well.