The State Bar actively investigates and prosecutes complaints against lawyers and those who pretend to be lawyers.
The guidelines for attorneys are embodied in the Rules of Professional Conduct. Attorneys must also adhere to other rules and laws, which cover everything from responsibilities to clients to the confidentiality of client records.
The State Bar fields questions via a multilingual intake line (800-843-9053) and provides the public with the resources they need to file a complaint against an attorney.
Anyone can file a complaint. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen and the process is free. Complaints against attorneys come from many sources, including clients, court officers, insurance companies and even other attorneys.
The State Bar investigates complaints of attorney misconduct, and if there is a basis for prosecution, files them in the State Bar Court.
If an attorney is recommended for suspension or disbarment by the State Bar Court, that discipline is ultimately forwarded to the Supreme Court for final approval. Disciplinary records are listed on an attorney's public online profile. Search for an attorney profile here.
If criminal conduct is suspected, the State Bar may also refer the matter to a law enforcement agency for investigation and potential prosecution.
In California, only attorneys can practice law. When someone who is not licensed to practice law provides services that can only be performed by attorneys, that is called the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). UPL is a crime.
UPL may include work performed by immigration consultants and legal document preparers. Immigration consultants can complete forms for you to translate, but they cannot provide you with legal advice or tell you what form to use. If they do, it is UPL. Immigration consultants cannot represent you in court or provide any legal advice. If they do, they could be prosecuted for UPL.
The State Bar of California works with law enforcement to investigate those who engage in UPL. Learn more about UPL here.