Updated: Nov 18, 2020
How a certified lawyer referral service can help locate honest attorneys in California
Only lawyers may practice law in California. Unlawful Practice of Law (UPL) is when someone who is not qualified to practice law performs services that lawyers can only perform. UPL is a felony. If you are looking for a lawyer, you should contact a California Bar Certified lawyer referral and information service.
How to verify an attorney's credentials in California
By asking for their bar number and looking at them on the State Bar website or calling the State Bar at 800-843-9053, you will find out if anyone is an attorney.
Duly qualified California attorneys and in good standing in another state are eligible to practice in California in some cases. In California, for instance, lawyers who practice only federal law, such as immigration, can practice but be licensed in another state. In those cases, by asking for their bar license number and state and looking them up for that state in the database, you can make sure they are licensed. The national listing of such directories is here.
UPL can involve work carried out by immigration consultants and preparers of legal documents. Immigration advisors will fill out forms for you to translate, but they cannot not give you legal advice. It's UPL if they do. Immigration consultants are unable to represent you or offer any legal advice in court. If they do, they might be charged because of UPL.
It is often deemed to be UPL if an attorney practices law when their license is revoked or after they are disbarred.
California's State Bar works with law enforcement to prosecute those that are involved in UPL. Please file a complaint with the State Bar if you believe you have been the victim of someone unlicensed.
Filing a complaint helps investigate the State Bar and can help deter others from being victims of fraud. There is no fee for filing a complaint, and you don't have to be a resident of the United States.. The State Bar does not ask for your citizenship or immigration status and does not ask for documentation.
Beware of those who call themselves "notarios".
Immigration advisors and another non-attorneys market their expertise as "notarios" or "notarios públicos" in certain Latin cultures. This title may confuse consumers, but notaries have similar qualifications to lawyers in some countries and may offer legal services in those countries.
In California, however, public notaries are not attorneys, (notario publico is the Spanish translation). Notaries take advantage of this misunderstanding to deceive or claim that they are qualified to give advice or services and obtain payments for services they are not legally licensed to provide, defrauding vast sums of money from customers in the process.