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:
• Attorneys are insured. All lawyers who participate in certified lawyer referral services must carry malpractice insurance to protect their clients. This means that if your lawyer does something wrong, and you successfully sue for malpractice, you can be sure the lawyer has the ability to pay.
• The lawyer referral service will screen your call. Every certified lawyer referral service has trained staff to help you determine whether you have a legal problem and, if so, what kind of lawyer you need — or if you need some other type of assistance.
• The lawyer referral service can refer you to a lawyer in your area of legal need. Certified lawyer referral services have lawyers with experience in many legal areas, such as family law, personal injury, probate and landlord-tenant law. Certified lawyer referral services screen their lawyers so they can refer you to a lawyer who practices in the particular area of law you need. Many lawyer referral services have subject matter panels, on which attorneys can serve only if they have demonstrated experience or meet certain other requirements.
• The lawyer referral service can give you information about other service programs. Some problems may at first seem to require a lawyer’s help, but actually may not. For example, you may have a problem that can be handled for free by a rent control board, small claims court or community mediation program. Certified lawyer referral services can direct you to government agencies or other organizations that may be better suited to assist you. In fact, thousands of Californians call lawyer referral services each year and fewer than 40 percent are actually referred to lawyers.
• The lawyer referral service may be able to provide an attorney at a reduced rate. Certification rules require lawyer referral services to make arrangements to serve people of limited means. Some lawyer referral services do this by operating low-fee or no-fee panels, while others cooperate with independent, local pro bono programs that are free. If you are financially eligible, the lawyer referral service may be able to refer you to one of its own attorneys who charges a reduced rate, or to another provider who can provide you with free assistance.
• The lawyer referral service may be able to provide bilingual lawyers. Many certified lawyer referral services have lawyers who speak Spanish and other languages to help you.