Some “Expert” Advice
April 12, 2013
I often get the question of whether attorneys can advertise that they are “experts” or have “expertise” in a particular practice area. The question likely stems from the fact that the State Bar prohibits attorneys from saying they are “specialists” or that they “specialize” in any practice area unless the attorney is certified as a specialist by either the State Bar, a board the State Bar has recognized or one that the ABA has accredited. There is, however, no specific prohibition against use of the term “expert” or any of its variants. Nonetheless, the description of yourself as an expert must not be misleading under Rule 7.1.
For example, a newbie attorney, fresh out of law school, should not describe themselves as an expert in anything. I would avoid using the term to describe your services unless you have several years practice under your belt. If you say you are an expert in a specific area, make sure that a fair portion of your practice has been devoted to that area of practice. So, if you primarily practice in District Court, and have done so for several years, but you have handled only one or two wills in that time frame, I would not recommend that you describe yourself as an expert in estate planning. My guess is that the State Bar would consider that description misleading.
Can you say you are “highly skilled” or have “substantial experience” in your field? Sure, but the same rules apply. The question to ask yourself is what do you think when someone describes themselves as an expert, highly skilled or highly qualified. Make sure the description fits, because you may be called upon one day to substantiate that claim.