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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.
You can find out if someone is an attorney by asking for their California bar number and looking them up on the State Bar website or by calling the State Bar at 800-843-9053.
In some instances, attorneys who are properly licensed and in good standing in another state are allowed to practice in California. For example, attorneys who practice only federal law, such as immigration, may practice in California but be licensed in another state. In those instances, you can make sure they are licensed by asking for their bar license number and state and looking them up in the directory for that state. Here is a national listing of those directories.
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.
If an attorney practices law while their license is suspended or after they are disbarred, it is also considered UPL.
The State Bar of California works with law enforcement to investigate those who engage in UPL. If you feel that you have been the victim of someone who is unlicensed, please file a complaint with the State Bar. Filing a complaint helps the State Bar investigate and may help prevent others from becoming victims of fraud. There is no charge to file a complaint, and you do not have to be a U.S. citizen to file. The State Bar does not ask for and does not track your citizenship or immigration status.