Legal Specialization: What Does That Mean?

The Texas Board of Legal Specialization is authorized by the Supreme Court of Texas to certify attorneys in 18 specific areas of law.  http://www.tbls.org/Cert/attexmre.pdf Board-certified attorneys have met specific requirements and passed a day long written examination.  This very rigorous and demanding certification process is both individual and voluntary.  It helps ensure that the citizens of Texas receive the highest quality legal services.

In 1991, after application for certification and having satisfied the requisite standards, James H. Barrow was awarded a Certificate of Board Specialization in each of the following areas:

  • Commercial Real Estate Law; and
  • Farm and Ranch Real Estate Law.

Since then, Mr. Barrow was re-certified in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2001 and 2016.

Board Certification is a voluntary designation program for attorneys and legal assistants.  Initial certification is valid for a period of five years.  To remain certified, an attorney and legal assistant must apply for recertification every five years and meet substantial involvement, peer review, and continuing legal education requirements for the specialty area.

To become Board Certified in a specialty area, an attorney must have:

  • Been licensed to practice law for at least five years;
  • Devoted a required percentage of practice to a specialty area for at least three years;
  • Handled a wide variety of matters in the area to demonstrate experience and involvement;
  • Attended continuing education seminars regularly to keep legal training up to date;
  • Been evaluated by fellow lawyers and judges; and
  • Passed a 6-hour written examination.

The requirements for Board-Certification in Commercial Real Estate Law and Farm and Ranch Real Estate Law are as follows:


It is the goal of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, in administrating the written certification examinations, to ensure that candidates for certification in all specialty areas must, as a general matter, demonstrate special competence in the following skills and areas of knowledge.


  • Specific identification and general application of statutes, regulations and other authorities that pertain to the practice in the candidate’s specialty;
  • Identification and definition of the jurisdiction and authority of the courts, administrative agencies and adjudicative bodies that take cognizance over regulations and laws that pertain in the candidate’s specialty;
  • Familiarity with the rules of the courts and administrative agencies before which the candidate practices his/her specialty;
  • Identification and articulation of the holdings of the leading cases in the area of the specialty; and
  • Identification and articulation of the trends in the law, based on recent and current legislation, case law and legal scholarship.

Skills & Abilities

  • Ability to communicate effectively to a variety of audiences (e.g., communications addressed to clients, counsel, courts, administrative agencies, etc.);
  • Ability to develop and evaluate strategies for solving a problem or accomplishing an objective;
  • Ability to analyze and apply legal rules and principles;
  • Ability to analyze, sort and use facts, and to plan and direct factual investigations;
  • Ability to organize and manage a legal task efficiently and within time constraints;
  • Ability to represent a client consistent with applicable ethical standards; and
  • Ability to invoke and utilize the procedures normally required in the area of specialty, including pleadings and filings.

Commercial Area of Real Estate Law

Commercial Real Estate practice involves advice and services in connection with the acquisition, ownership, leasing, financing, use, transfer and disposition of real property other than residential, farm and ranch and oil, gas and mineral matters.

  • Candidates are expected to have knowledge of:
  • Current Developments (state legislation and court decisions during prior three years);
  • Real Estate Financing;
  • Acquisition and Disposition;
  • Land Use Controls;
  • Title Insurance (including forms promulgated by the State Board of Insurance);
  • Leases;
  • Debtor/Creditor Matters; and
  • Federal Tax Aspects;
  • Miscellaneous Topics:
    • Condominiums;
    • Letters of Credit;
    • Construction Contracts
    • Insurance Relating to Real Estate
    • Eminent Domain;
    • Environmental Laws – CERCLA, etc;
    • Americans with Disabilities Act requirements;
    • Selection of Business Entity;
    • Fraudulent Conveyance; andEthics.

Farm and Ranch Area of Real Estate Law

Farm and Ranch Real Estate practice involves advice and services in connection with the acquisition, ownership, financing, use, transfer and disposition of farm and ranch property, including a basic knowledge of oil, gas and mineral laws.

Candidates are expected to have knowledge of (list is not exhaustive):

  • Nature, Extent, Quantity and Quality of Estate Owned;
  • Acquisition and Disposition of Farm and Ranch Property;
  • Leases of Surface Estate;
  • Express and Implied Easements, Rights-of-Way and Ways of Necessity;
  • Subdivision of Farm and Ranch Property;
  • Ad Valorem Taxation of Farm and Ranch Land;
  • Water Rights;
  • Surveying and Boundary Law and Evidence;
  • Farm and Ranch Estate Taxation and Planning;
  • State and Federal Laws and Regulations Affecting Farm and Ranch Property including Environmental; and
  • Ethics.

General Area of Real Estate Law

Candidates are expected to have knowledge of the following (list is not exhaustive):

  • Interests and Estates in Real Property;
  • Sales of Real Estate;
  • Conveyances of Real Estate;
  • Real Estate Financing Liens, Security Interests and Remedies;
  • Mechanic’s Materialman’s and Other Liens;
  • Title Insurance;
  • Development, Zoning, and Platting of Real Estate;
  • Federal and State Regulation of Real Estate;
  • Landlord/Tenant Rights and Responsibilities; and
  • Actions, Remedies and Defenses in Actions Concerning Real Property.