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Avoid Fraud When Conducting A Search For An Attorney in California

Updated: Sep 26

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.

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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.

Immigration consultants are not permitted to advertise their services using the words "notario" or "notario publico".

Here are a few of tips to stop fraud if you want to hire an immigration consultant:

  • When anyone requests to be paid in cash, be wary.

  • Keep a trail of all your paperwork. If you don't have an account with a local bank, use a cashier's check.

  • Check the State Bar website for a list of persons who have issued cease and desist notices that warn non-lawyers that some of their activities can violate the law.

  • Check the list of those not allowed to practice immigration law by the federal government.

  • Get referrals. To find a reputable immigration consultant's name, check with community groups or attorneys who specialize in immigration law. Based solely on an advertisement, a phonebook listing, or a friend's suggestion isn't recommended to employ an immigration consultant. If your sources report that people have lost money or paid the immigration consultant, get a lawyer referral instead.

  • Find out the immigration consultant's history. You can quickly verify to see if they are licensed in California once you have an immigration consultant's name. Immigration consultants must be registered with the Secretary of State and file a bond of $100,000. Check online for a bond from an immigration consultant or call 916-653-3984. They may not have a bond, or the advisor may not be trustworthy if you can't locate the consultant's bond.

  • Get a contract in writing. Insist on getting a formal contract if you plan to employ an immigration consultant. The contract should list what the counselor is going to do, the fees you plan to pay, and any expenses. It ought to be in your native language and English. You can cancel the deal and get your cash back if you change your mind within 72 hours. After the initial 72 hours, you can also cancel your contract at any time. You are making sure in writing that you terminate the deal.

  • Keep the initial documents and make copies of the documents that you send to the consultant for immigration. Receipts, contracts, official forms, accounts, and financial reports are included.

  • Ask the right questions. Make sure that the services promised will be delivered by the immigration consultant. Only restricted services can be offered by an immigration specialist, such as interpreting your paperwork for you, helping you complete applications, and sending them to the federal agency.

  • Be careful if they charge you for forms or ask you to pay for the promised job before they do it. You can, for instance, download most U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services forms (USCIS) for free. By charging you additional fees, immigration consultants will trick you, claiming that they know someone at the USCIS who can quickly process your documentation.

  • Never sign documents or forms that are blank and have false data. If you are asked to do something by an immigration consultant, ask for your papers back, and find another immigration consultant.

  • You have the right to an accounting report of your expenses if you have already made a payment.

How To Find Honest And Pre-Screened Lawyers In California

The consequences of a lawsuit can be permanent and affect your personal and professional life. You should immediately consult with a pre-screened Los Angeles attorney with experience in California law.

  1. You can submit a lawyer referral request online 24 hours a day. Free case review within 15 minutes.

  2. By chat, you'll be connected with a California lawyer within 5 minutes.

  3. By calling the 24-hour lawyer referral hotline at 1-661-310-7999

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California State Bar Certified Lawyer Referral And Information Service is a California State Bar Certified and approved Lawyer Referral and Information Service.

We provide unbiased and impartial lawyer referrals. This service isn't owned nor operated by lawyers receiving referrals.


Our objective is that you receive the best comprehensive, high-quality legal representation while holding California attorneys to the highest standards of professional conduct.

Why Lawyer Referrals Matter


The California State Bar investigates on average 16,000 complaints of professional misconduct by attorneys annually.

We conduct due diligence by researching and recommending the best local attorney for your case.