ACFLS was the inspiration of Stephen Adams, one of the first certified Family Law specialists in California. The first specialization designations were given in 1973 as part of a pilot program approved by the California Supreme Court in the areas of criminal law, taxation law and worker’s compensation law. Family Law was added to the pilot program in 1979. In 1980 Family Law became the first specialization area to require an exam, with 70 Family Law attorneys taking the first exam. Later, in 1985, the California Supreme Court approved making the certifications of legal specialists a permanent program.
After the first Family Law certification exam, Adams organized the ACFLS (originally called the Northern California Society of Certified Family Law Specialists). According to Adams, the organization started with a handful of San Francisco Family Law attorneys who had become specialists meeting once a month at a local restaurant to chat and learn from each other. The name was changed to the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists a few years later. ACFLS celebrated its 30th anniversary in December 2010.
ACFLS was conceived with one qualification required for membership: certification as a Family Law Specialist. Once certified, an attorney may join ACFLS by simply paying the dues and submitting the application. This distinguishes ACFLS from other professional organizations where members are voted in. Adams and the founding members perceived that an attorney who had achieved certification as a specialist had demonstrated a commitment to the highest standards of legal competence and that should be a sufficient standard for membership in ACFLS. By becoming ACFLS members, individuals gains access to a large network of experienced colleagues and to publications and exceptional continuing education programs that will enhance their expertise and knowledge in this complex area of law.
Because Family Law is an area of practice that requires a great breadth of knowledge, Adams and others felt that having a professional organization for certified specialists would encourage more Family Law attorneys to become specialists and thereby improve the practice of Family Law around the state. Formal certification assists in protecting the public by regulating attorneys’ claims of special skills: Consumers may rely on the fact that certified specialists have had to demonstrate proficiency and competence in their practice areas. Further, certification allows sole practitioners, women, minorities, attorneys in small towns and smaller firms to demonstrate their proficiency. ACFLS was established to provide the advantage of membership in a professional association to those groups as well as to attorneys in larger firms and cities.