There are ethics rules that apply in Virginia (VA) that say you cannot hold yourself out as a personal injury specialist no matter how specialized you are in personal injury law. In Virginia (VA), there are no recognized specialties in any field of law, including representing injured people. The state could develop a system of certified specialties so that a lawyer who has been practicing in a given area, like car wreck injuries, can take certain tests or prove his expertise sufficient to hold himself out as a specialist. For example, the state could have some kind of competency test for me as a lawyer who has been practicing injury law for 18 years to demonstrate that I know what I am doing in the area of automobile wreck cases more than just a general practitioner. However, the state bar in Virginia (VA) has never bothered to create a system of specialty recognition for personal injury or any other area.
In states like Virginia (VA) where there is no recognized system of specialization, an attorney who does nothing but handle auto injuries is ethically forbidden from holding himself or herself out as a “specialist.” So, I can say that I practice exclusively plaintiff’s side personal injury law. However, I cannot say I am a “personal injury specialist.” This seems kind of silly given that for over a decade I have done nothing but represent injured people in automobile accidents and other types of cases on a full-time basis. I would love to be able to take some kind of test or otherwise prove that I am in fact a personal injury and wrongful death specialist. However, the state bar has not set up such a system. There are certain national organizations that certify civil litigation expertise. Both my law partners, Rick Shapiro and Jim Lewis, have at various times jumped through all of the hoops and rules necessary to be certified by some national advocacy organization as a civil litigation specialist. However, even these certifications do not allow you to advertise or hold yourself out to the public in Virginia (VA) as being a personal injury specialist because you have to put in language warning that the Virginia (VA) State Bar has no system for certifying specialties.
This lack of a way of distinguishing personal injury lawyers who focus exclusively on personal injury law and those that do not is a disadvantage to the public. Consumers should have a right to now whether the lawyer they are hiring for their car wreck case does it on a full-time basis and has demonstrated competency in the field. We, at Hajek, Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton, try to get this point across by our advertising slogan “All We Do Is Injury Law.” However, some other lawyers either being ignorant of these ethically restrictions or ignoring of them advertise using phrases like the “Auto Accident Specialist.” Unfortunately, the state bar does not do enough to enforce its own rule by preventing these other firms from using a phrase like personal injury specialist improperly. Also, without a formal certification process, you have no way of knowing whether the lawyer who is using the phrase “Personal Injury Specialist” really is objectively experienced and competent in a practice emphasizing nothing but representing injured people in such cases. Perhaps by the time I have been doing nothing but personal injury law for 30 years, the state bar will go ahead and develop some system by which I can be recognized officially as a litigator who has devoted his practice to representing families who have been injured.