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New Mexico Legal Specialization Program

At Lawyer Legion, we understand the importance of specialty certification programs. We created a feature on our directory to narrow the search to only New Mexico attorneys who have earned specialty certification.

In late 2017, the New Mexico Supreme Court (NMSC) discontinued its Legal Specialization program. Due to the new testing requirement and the structure of the new program, current specialists will not be able to transfer their certifications to the new program. As a specialist's certification under the NMSC Program expires, the attorney reapply to the specialty once it has been created.

In October of 2019, the State Bar of New Mexico Legal Specialization Program announced that the Board of Bar Commissioners (BBC) had voted to implement a Legal Specialization Program at the State Bar of New Mexico (SBNM).

The new SBNM Program is not a continuation of the NMSC Program. The SBNM Program will be modeled on the very successful Legal Specialization Programs in North Carolina and Texas. It will have requirements similar to the prior NMSC Program including minimum years in practice, percent of practice, peer review, and supplementary CLEs.

In addition to the minimum requirements, specialist applicants in New Mexico will be required to pass an exam. The exam will be designed by subject matter experts in the practice area to evaluate the level of applicant understanding and expertise in the area.

The design of the new program involves two steps. First, the State Bar of New Mexico will create a frame work for the Legal Specialty Program including policies/procedures for specialty creation, tools for test creation, and the structure to regulate specialists. Second, attorneys in each practice area will apply to the BBC to create a specialty in their field.

If approved, practice area attorneys will implement the specialty and create the exam. No specialties will exist until the individual specialty has been approved by the BBC and implemented by attorneys from the practice area.

The State Bar hopes to have the new program available to accept applications for specialty creation beginning in the fall of 2020.

Regular program updates will be provided in the Bar Bulletin as we move toward implementation. Additionally, the Regulatory Committee of the BBC will hold several "town hall" meetings, beginning after the first of the year, to discuss further details of the program and answer questions. Attorneys will be able to participate in these discussions by phone or in person.

The Discontinued NMSC Legal Specialization Program

Until late 2017, the New Mexico Board of Legal Specialization provided the public with a list of board certified specialists who have demonstrated a certain threshold of competency after an evaluation of the attorney's knowledge, involvement, experience in a particular field of the law.

Under New Mexico's Rules of Professional Conduct Article 7, Rule 16-704, only certified specialist attorneys were permitted to make statements implying "specialization" in legal advertisements. The purpose of the New Mexico board-certified attorney program includes:

  • Helping the public find a qualified attorney in a particular specialty area of the law; discouraging false or misleading advertising that often preys on unsophisticated or wary legal consumers;
  • Encouraging attorneys to strive for excellence while increasing their knowledge and professionalism;
  • Assisting the most qualified attorneys in their marketing efforts for certain specialty areas of the law; and
  • Improving the overall quality of legal services in specialty areas of the law.

Under New Mexico Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney may say he or she is certified only if he or she is certified by the New Mexico Board of Legal Specialization, by an appropriate organization in another state, or by an organization accredited by the American Bar Association. Proctors in admiralty and patent attorneys barred by the United States Patent and Trademark Office do not need to seek state certification.

Prior to 2017, attorneys in New Mexico could become board certified in any of 14 different types of specialty areas of the law, including:

  • Criminal Law Trial
  • Civil Law Trial
  • Workers Compensation
  • Family Law
  • Estate Planning Trust and Probate Law
  • Bankruptcy Law
  • Real Estate Law
  • Taxation Law
  • Federal Indian Law
  • Appellate Practice
  • Local Government Law
  • Employment and Labor Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Health Law
  • Natural Resources Law

The minimum requirement for an attorney to become a board certified specialist varied by specialty area, but generally require that the attorney:

  • Must show substantial involvement in the specialty area through the number of cases handled and the amount of time spent on preparing or litigating cases in the specialty area:
  • Must be in good standing with the New Mexico Bar Association;
  • Must show completion of a minimum number of continuing legal education (CLE) classes with the MCLE Board during a specified period prior to making the application;
  • Must demonstrate to the board knowledge and competence in a specialty area of the law; and
  • Must submit to peer review so that other attorneys and judges familiar with the attorney's practice can comment.

In New Mexico, Legal Specialization is a program that continues to identify and certify attorneys with special competence in specific areas of practice and improves the quality of legal services provided to the public as well as providing opportunities and advantages to board certified specialists.

Contact Information

Legal Specialization Program in New Mexico
PO Box 93070
Albuquerque, NM 87199-3070
Phone: 505-797-6000
Fax: 505-821-0220
E-mail: ls@nmbar.org

Disclaimer: Lawyer Legion is not endorsed or approved by any state or national board certification program or by any bar association, including the State Bar of New Mexico. This article was last updated on Thursday, December 19, 2019.