1. What is a lawyer referral service?
2. How can a lawyer referral service help me?
3. How does a lawyer referral service work?
4. Where should I look for a lawyer referral service?
5. How important is certification?
6. Who operates lawyer referral services?
7. How much will I have to pay?
8. What should I do if I believe my lawyer has done something wrong?
A lawyer referral service refers potential clients to attorneys. Staff at the lawyer referral service will match people looking for lawyers with attorneys who are experienced in the appropriate area of law. You will then see the lawyer for an initial consultation or speak to the lawyer on the phone.
In California, lawyer referral services must be certified by the State Bar and conform to California Supreme Court standards in order to protect clients.
If you need legal help, a certified lawyer referral service can put you in touch with a lawyer who can help you with your problem. If your problem can be resolved without a lawyer, the service may try to provide information or the names of other organizations or agencies that may be able to help you.
When you call a lawyer referral service, you will be asked about your situation. If you have a legal problem, the lawyer referral service will arrange an initial consultation for you, or give you the name and number of a lawyer you can contact directly to arrange a consultation. There is usually a small charge for this consultation, but it may in some cases be free. After the initial consultation, it is up to you whether or not you want to hire the lawyer.
For a complete list of State Bar-certified lawyer referral services, visit the State Bar’s website at www.calbar.org/lrs. For phone numbers of certified lawyer referral services in your county, call 866-44-CA-LAW (866-442-2529). If you are out of state, you can call 415-538-2250.
Be sure to look for the lawyer referral service’s State Bar certification number, which must appear in all advertising.
Certification means that a lawyer referral service meets certain standards approved by the California Supreme Court. Because the State Bar enforces those standards, if you have a problem with a lawyer referral service, the State Bar can provide you with a complaint form and look into your complaint. Certification also means that if you use one of the certified services, you can be assured of the following:
Most lawyer referral services are operated on a nonprofit basis by local bar associations or legal services programs. Some lawyer referral services are operated on a for-profit basis by businesses or lawyers. Both nonprofit and for-profit lawyer referral services are held to the same standards under the certification rules of the State Bar.
Most lawyer referral services charge only a nominal fee — about $25 to $40 — for an initial consultation with a lawyer. Some offer a free first-time consultation. During the initial consultation, you can explain your situation and ask questions that will help you decide whether you want to hire the lawyer.
For more information on hiring a lawyer, you also can request a copy of the State Bar pamphlet Finding the Right Lawyer. To see this and other State Bar pamphlets, visit the State Bar’s website.
If you cannot afford to pay a lawyer, tell the person who takes your call at the lawyer referral service. If the lawyer referral service cannot provide the legal help you need at the price you can afford to pay, the service may be able to recommend a free legal services program in your area if you qualify.
If your problem is not resolved with the lawyer, you can file an attorney complaint against him or her by calling the State Bar’s Attorney Complaint Hotline at 800-843-9053. If you have a complaint about the lawyer referral service, you can also file a complaint against the agency with the State Bar.
For more information on reporting a lawyer to the State Bar and handling other problems, the State Bar offers a pamphlet entitled Having a Problem With Your Lawyer?
For more information on certified lawyer referral services, contact the State Bar at:
Lawyer Referral Services
The State Bar of California
180 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-1639
415-538-2250 (for out-of-state callers)