In California, only attorneys can engage in the practice of law. You can find out if someone is an attorney by asking for their California bar number and by looking them up on the State Bar website's Look Up a Lawyer feature or calling the State Bar at 800-843-9053.
In some instances, attorneys who are properly licensed and in good standing in another state may practice in California. For example, attorneys who practice federal law, such as immigration and bankruptcy, may practice in California but be licensed in another state. In those instances, you can ask for their licensed number in the state they are licensed in and look them up on that state’s lawyer lookup.
When someone who is not licensed to practice law provides services only performed by attorneys, that is called the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). UPL is a crime.
The State Bar of California licenses, regulates, and disciplines attorneys. The agency also plays a role in investigating those who engage in UPL by unlawfully giving legal advice or posing as attorneys.
UPL includes legal consultants who advise clients about immigration and taxes. For example, if you consult an immigration consultant who describes themselves as a notario, the law allows them to translate and explain documents to you. Immigration consultants cannot represent you in court, or provide specific legal advice. If they do, they could be prosecuted for UPL.
If an attorney practices law while their license is suspended or after they are disbarred, it is also considered UPL.
If you feel that you have been the target of someone who is unlicensed, you can file a Non-Attorney Unauthorized Practice of Law Complaint with the State Bar.
There is no charge to file a complaint. You do not need to be a U.S. citizen and the State Bar will not ask about your citizenship or immigration status.