Board Certified in Criminal Law by TBLS

Looking for a criminal defense attorney in Texas? One of the best ways to start your search is by understanding the requirements to become board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS).

In Texas, the specialty area of criminal law was created in 1975. The TBLS Standards for Attorney Certification can be found under Part II and Section I for Criminal Law. The standards were amended by the Texas Supreme Court by order on February 10, 2009.

Definition of Criminal Law for the Texas Board Certification Program

For purposes of the board certification program in Texas, Section I, subsection A, defines the term “criminal law.” Under this provision, the definition of "criminal law" is the practice of law dealing with matters involving:

  • jury voir dire;
  • examining trial, indictment, information, and complaint;
  • rules of evidence--state and federal (e.g., impeachment, extraneous offenses, etc.);
  • legal aspects of pretrial release;
  • discovery;
  • legal aspects of plea bargaining and guilty pleas;
  • procedure and rules of evidence at punishment hearings;
  • U.S. sentencing guidelines;
  • motions for new trial;
  • motions for arrest of judgment;
  • appeals;
  • post-conviction remedies;
  • law of sentences;
  • probation and parole revocation;
  • probation and parole granting;
  • change of venue;
  • severance;
  • speedy trials;
  • jeopardy;
  • immunity;
  • confessions;
  • search and seizure;
  • identification;
  • competence to stand trial and culpable mental state;
  • executive clemency;
  • death penalty;
  • other substantive criminal offenses; and
  • juvenile crimes.

What are the Requirements for Substantive Involvement in Criminal Law?

The Texas Board of Legal Specialization Standards for Attorney Certification in Part II § I for Criminal Law sets out the requirements for substantial involvement in criminal law.

Under Section I, subsection B, the attorney applying to be board certified in criminal law must show substantial involvement and special competence in Texas criminal law practice by providing such information as may be required by TBLS.

  • Percentage of Practice Requirement - For the initial certification requirements, the attorney must demonstrate that at least 25% of the attorney's time is spent practicing criminal law in Texas during each of the three (3) years immediately preceding application.
  • Task Requirements - An attorney applying to become board certified in criminal law must provide information concerning Texas criminal law matters as described in the definition of "criminal law." In evaluating the attorney's experience, TBLS may take into consideration the nature, complexity, and duration of the tasks handled by the attorney. The attorney must list the number of Texas criminal law matters for each of the following categories that he or she has participated in during the 3 years immediately preceding application:
    • State felony jury trials;
    • State misdemeanor jury trials;
    • Federal jury trials;
    • State appeals;
    • Federal appeals;
    • State and federal non-jury trials;
    • State and federal pleas of guilty;
    • State and federal post-conviction remedies;
    • State death penalty (trial, appeal; and/or habeas);
    • Juvenile proceedings;
    • Dismissals;
    • Grand jury no bills;
    • Cases decided on pre-trial motions where evidence was presented (such as motions to suppress evidence);
    • Probation or parole revocations; and
    • Other criminal law matters not listed above.

Felony and Misdemeanor Jury Trials Requirements

The reason why most criminal defense attorneys in Texas do not submit an application to become board certified in criminal law is because of the number of jury trials required.

In addition to the other task requirements, the attorney applying to the TBLS to become board certified in criminal law must demonstrate handling, as lead counsel, during his or her entire practice, the following minimum number of Texas criminal law cases in three (3) of the following categories:

      • five (5) state felony jury trials;
      • ten (10) state misdemeanor jury trials or five (5) state felony jury trials in addition to those listed above;
      • five (5) federal jury trials or substantial involvement in ten (10) federal cases in which there was a contested issue that required the applicant to file pleadings or a memorandum of law (or both) on behalf of the client and that resulted in the granting of relief without a hearing or in an adversarial hearing with the trial court having to resolve a contested issue of law or fact; or 
      • any combination of five (5) state or federal appeals.

The term “contested issues” for the purposes of the TBLS rules on becoming board certified in criminal law can include anything from the legality of a search to the appropriateness of a sentence.


Reference Requirements to Become Board Certified in Criminal Law in Texas

To become board certified by TBLS in criminal law, the attorney must submit a minimum of five (5) names and addresses of persons to be contacted as references to attest to his or her competence in criminal law within the three (3) years immediately preceding application.

These persons shall be substantially involved in criminal law and be familiar with the applicant's criminal law practice.

During the initial application process, the attorney must submit the following types of references:

  • Four Texas attorneys who are substantially involved in criminal law. The attorney must have tried a criminal law matter with or against one of these attorneys.
  • One judge of any court of record in Texas before whom applicant has appeared as an advocate in a criminal law matter.

Rules for Recertification as Board Certified in Criminal Law by TBLS

Any attorney that applies for recertification as a board certified specialist by TBLS must demonstrate a devotion to a minimum of 25% of his or her time practicing criminal law in Texas during each year of the five (5) year period of certification.

When applying for recertification as board certified in criminal law, the attorney must submit names of persons with whom he or she has had dealings involving criminal law matters since certification or the most recent recertification.


What are the Upcoming TBLS Exam Dates and Fee Schedule?

The upcoming TBLS exam dates and fee schedule include: 

  • The Certification Application is $150.00 with a filing deadline of April 3, 2017
  • The TBLS Attorney Examination Fee is $250.00 with an exam date of October 16, 2017
  • The Laptop Fee is $55.00
  • The Recertification Fee (required every 5th year of Certification) is $50.00 with a deadline on April 3, 2017
  • The Annual Reporting Fees is $125.00 with a deadline of April 3, 2017
  • The Attorney Appeal is $50.00 due 15 days after notice
  • The Administrative Reinstatement is $100.00 due 30 days after notice
  • The Certification Application Resubmit Fee is $50.00

Additional Resources

Finding an Attorney Board Certified in Criminal Law by TBLS - Visit Lawyer Legion, an online attorney directory to find many of the criminal defense attorneys in Texas who have earned the distinction of being board certified in criminal law. These attorneys focus on criminal justice issues at the local, state, or federal law. 

Becoming a Board-certified Paralegal in Criminal Law - Members of the State Bar of Texas’s Paralegal Division have annual CLE requirements. The requirements including sitting for an exam after a minimum of five years’ experience in the field for which you want to test. The paralegal must have either two additional years of experience, completion of paralegal programs with various semester credit hours, a bachelor’s degree or higher in any field, completion of an American Bar Association paralegal program, or National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) certification. The paralegal must also complete 30 hours of CLE in the specialty area in which you are testing within three years prior to the test. More than 300 paralegals have distinguished themselves with board certification. Out of the twenty-five paralegals inducted in 2015, only one was inducted in criminal law.

Find TBLS on Facebook - Find recent updated by TBLS which now certifies attorneys in 21 different specialty areas and paralegals in seven specialty areas. TBLS has certified more than 7,000 Texas attorneys, several with multiple certifications, issuing a total of more than 8,300 Certificates of Special Competence.

Find Criminal Law Attorneys in Texas - Visit Lawyer Legion, an online attorney directory, to find lawyers focused on criminal justice and defense in Texas. Our directory puts a special emphasis on attorneys certified as a specialist in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS).


This article was last updated on Monday, December 16, 2019.