When you’re faced with a legal situation and you don’t know where to turn, it can be extremely helpful to talk to a qualified attorney who can answer your questions. Sometimes, however, you may not know which attorney to speak to. If you don’t already know someone, you may need help locating the right attorney to help you. Thankfully, there is no shortage of resources for someone looking for legal help.

What are Lawyer Referral Services?

Many state bar associations offer lawyer referral services, where you can provide a few details about your situation, answer a few questions, and receive referrals to lawyers who practice in the areas of law most likely to be helpful to you.

If you’re looking for help in California, the state bar association does things a little bit differently. The California State Bar does not not provide legal advice, and does not make direct referrals. However, it does maintain a list of various referral services that you can trust.

For an attorney referral service to be listed on the state bar website, it must be certified by the State Bar Association. To be certified by the California State Bar, a lawyer referral service must show that it is in compliance with specific rules and standards under California law. Referral services are generally certified for two years before they need to renew their certification.

What About Local Referral Services?

In addition to the certified referral services listed by the state bar, there are also many local bar associations that you can turn to, as well. Most counties and major cities have their own bar associations (like the Bar Association of San Francisco or the Sacramento County Bar Association) that may offer referral services if you’re looking for a lawyer in a specific geographic area. Keep in mind that these referral services may be limited to the specific town or county that they cover, and may also involve a fee for using the service.

What are Private Attorney Referral Services?

In addition to contacting the local city or county bar associations, there are also private lawyer referral services that you can reach out to. Certain private California legal associations may also be able to refer you to a lawyer that will suit specific needs, such as the Mexican American Bar Association of Los Angeles County. Many of the private legal associations will also host free legal clinics to help members of the public receive assistance with certain legal issues, such as family law issues, housing, immigration, or employment issues.

With any referral service, you are not bound to use the names that you are provided. You can choose to contact (or not contact) any of the attorneys that you are referred to. If you are unsatisfied with the results of your request, you can always contact a different service and get a new list of names.

Can I Get Help From Legal Aid?

The California State Bar funds several legal aid organizations across the state to provide legal services to people with low or moderate incomes–those who may otherwise be unable to afford the services of an attorney.

The state bar website provides a listing of these legal aid groups, many of which serve specific geographical areas or focus on particular areas of interest (like mental health advocacy or disability rights).

However, keep in mind that Legal Aid is often overworked and they are not able to take on every case. Many free legal clinics can only take on specific types of cases, like landlord/tenant issues in a specific city (i.e. San Francisco).

It is very possible that they are unable to represent you. Legal Aid groups do the best they can with the little that they have, so keep in mind that free legal services are not available to everyone. 

What Else Should I Know About Using a Referral Service?

While they are great resources for finding people to talk to about your case, referral services do have their drawbacks. Keep in mind that there may be fees for using the service, even before you contact an attorney.

Many services charge fees for providing the attorney’s contact information, and then leave it up to you to contact the attorney yourself. The attorney may charge a fee for your initial consultation, as well.

That said, you do not have to hire the first lawyer that you have a consultation with. If you are not comfortable with a certain lawyer, then you are free to seek out another, until you find a person with whom you are comfortable enough to trust your case.

Should I Hire a California Lawyer?

If you are dealing with a legal issue, and are looking for some advice in California, it is in your best interests to contact a qualified California lawyer. Although the state bar association does not provide direct referrals, there are still plenty of resources available to you, whether through local bar associations, bar-certified referral services, or private referral services. 

If you are still unsure of which service is right for you, you can also work with other organizations like LawyerReferralServices.org, which maintains a comprehensive listing of California lawyer referral services by county. Even when you are dealing with tough and complicated issues, you never have to face them alone.