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A Useful Step in Choosing a Lawyer

Corporate CEOs, career criminals, and Larry King may have substantial experience in selecting lawyers to represent their interests but many people don't know how to go about selecting a lawyer.  A yellow pages ad will typically provide general information about the attorney's areas of specialty and length of experience.  However, an attorney advertisement, just like any advertisement, is intended to appeal to a prospective "buyer."  This means an ad is likely to present the attorney's strong points, while leaving out any problem areas.  Referrals from friends, family members, or co-workers may prove useful but should not be relied on to the exclusion of additional research into an attorney's background.  One useful tool in conducting this research is provided by the State Bar of California.

The State Bar website provides an Attorney Search page that allows a user to obtain basic information about an attorney, including educational background any specialization in any area of law in which the State Bar recognizes specialization, including family law, bankruptcy law, workers' compensation law, and tax law.  Keep in mind, though, that specialization is not recognized in most areas of law.  The web page will also tell the user when the attorney was admitted to practice in California and whether the attorney has been "inactive" at any time. 

Crucially, the Attorney Search page will also tell the user whether the attorney has ever been disciplined by the State Bar of California.  If an attorney has been disciplined, the site will sometimes take the reader directly to a linked document that describes the discipline and the reasons for it.  Even where the linked documents are not provided the site will tell the user what discipline was imposed and when it was imposed.  Where such minimal information is provided, an interested party can obtain copies of official disciplinary records directly from the State Bar.  The Bar charges for photocopying and related services, however, considering the importance of choosing the right attorney, consider the money well spent.

In considering the disciplinary information on the Bar website, please keep a few things in mind.  First, as stated on the site, there aremany attorneys in California and some have the same name.  Be sure you're checking the background of the right attorney by confirming address and phone number information.  Second, a history of discipline should not necessarily automatically disqualify an attorney.  Some acts leading to discipline are more serious than others and the passage of time without repeated problems may also be considered.  Third, a lack of disciplinary history, in itself, does not mean an attorney is qualified to handle your legal matter.

The State Bar website is by no means the only source one should consider when looking for an attorney.  Word of mouth, internet searches, attorney referral services, and numerous other sources provide useful information about attorneys.  The Bar website is, however, a useful early step in the selection process.

Mike McMahon – mmcmahon@carnaclaw.com