How can I tell whether a lawyer is legitimate?

Hiring a lawyer is a big step for someone facing criminal charges—big enough that it’s worth doing a little research. At a minimum, you want to know that your lawyer is licensed and in good standing with the bar.

(For information on finding and working with a lawyer, see Getting a Lawyer for Your Criminal Case.)

You can, of course, plug a potential lawyer’s name into Google and see what comes up. You can also give the lawyer’s website a close look. And it’s often a good idea to talk to people who know or know of a lawyer you’re considering hiring.

A great place to start your research is the state bar website, particularly if you have a state, rather than federal, case. Many such websites have search functions that allow you to look up lawyers by name. Lawyer listings typically include:

  • an identification number
  • contact information
  • education history, and
  • the date the lawyer became licensed to practice in your state.

Most importantly, these listings show membership status. They indicate whether a lawyer is eligible to practice. They also list any public discipline (at least in recent years) the lawyer has experienced.

Example: At the website for the State Bar of California, you can look up a lawyer by name or bar number in the “Attorney Search” field. Once you find the listing you’re looking for, you’ll see a variety of information. If the lawyer is eligible to practice law, the listing will say so. In addition, there are sections entitled “Status History” and “Actions Affecting Eligibility to Practice Law.”  If the lawyer has been publicly disciplined, there should be a summary of the transgression(s) and punishment. To make sure you've seen all relevant information on the lawyer, you can call (800) 843-9053.

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