Problems with an unlicensed legal provider

If someone doles out legal advice without a license, that’s called the “unauthorized practice of law,” or UPL. In California, only attorneys can give legal advice. If an attorney loses his or her license to practice, but continues to take and advise clients, that’s also considered the unauthorized practice of law.

If you feel you’ve been the target of an unethical adviser, you can file a complaint with the State Bar about UPL. There is no charge to file a complaint, and you do not need to be a U.S. citizen.

The State Bar works with other law enforcement agencies to investigate when someone violates the law. Here are some situations where you may want to file a complaint:

  • You’ve consulted someone about immigration who pretends to be a lawyer, but the person does not hold a license. Immigration consultants can give only non-legal help, such as translating answers on forms. They cannot suggest answers or advise you on which forms to fill out.

  • You’ve hired an attorney who says he or she can practice in California, but only holds a license in another state.

  • You discover that the attorney you hired worked on your case while his or her license was suspended by the State Bar.

These are only a few examples. If you have questions or you speak a language other than English, you can also contact the State Bar’s complaint hotline at 800-843-9053. If you have specific immigration concern, you can call the immigration hotline at 866-879-4532.

How to protect yourself

  • Ask for the attorney’s bar number or to see license. If the attorney claims to be licensed in California, check on the State Bar website to see if he or she is in good standing or by calling the bar’s complaint hotline at 800-843-9053.

  • Be wary of those who call themselves “notaries.” Some advisers may call themselves “notarios,” a term used in some Latin American countries by those who do hold a license to practice law. But in California, a law now allows only attorneys to call themselves “notarios.”

    The law also requires non-lawyer immigration consultants to file a bond of $100,000 with the Secretary of State. For more information about immigration consultants or notarios, see our story on the State Bar website.

  • Make sure to get your contract in writing as well as receipts for payments you make.

  • Be wary if someone requires cash payments.

  • If you’ve already made a payment, you are entitled to ask for an accounting of your bills.

For more information about filing a complaint against a non-lawyer or a lawyer licensed in California, call 800-843-9053.

Contact us

Office of Chief Trial Counsel/Intake
The State Bar of California
845 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, California 90017-2515
Immigration hotline:
866-879-4532