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State Bar of California

Founded in 1927, the State Bar of California licenses the state's 250,000 attorneys, investigates complaints of professional misconduct, and handles discipline for misconduct. Although the organization is named the "State Bar of California," the public often uses the phrase "California Bar Association." In fact, the State Bar of California was previously a voluntary state bar association known as the California Bar Association.

The State Bar of California enforces the bar rules that govern professional conduct. Approved by the California Supreme Court, the bar rules are binding upon all lawyers licensed to practice in California.

California was one of the first states to unify its bar and make it mandatory. For this reason, all attorneys licensed to practice law in California must belong to the State Bar of California (sometimes called the "California State Bar" or the "California Bar Association").

With more than 250,000 members, the State Bar of California is the largest state bar association in the United States. Headquartered in San Francisco, the California State Bar has branches in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Use the website of the State Bar of California to search for an attorney. From the website of the California State Bar, you can find the attorney’s address, phone number, bar number, and disciplinary action history (if any). Finding the best attorney in California for your case requires considering a number of factors including the attorney's training, education, experience, location, and focus area or specialty.

In 2018, the part of the State Bar of California that housed the bar sections were split off into the newly formed California Lawyers Association.


Contact Information

California State Bar Association - San Francisco Headquarters
180 Howard Street
San Francisco CA 94105
Phone Number: 415-538-2000
 
California State Bar Association - Los Angeles Branch Office
1149 S. Hill St.
Los Angeles CA 90015
Phone Number: 213-765-1000
Hotline: 800-843-9053
 
Website: www.calbar.ca.gov

Executive Director of the State Bar

The duties of the Executive Director include reporting to the bar's 19-member Board of Trustees, the governing body for the agency.

Leah T. Wilson recently stepped down as the Executive Directory of the State Bar of California effective January 17, 2020. Chief of Programs Donna Hershkowitz has been named Interim Executive Director. Ms. Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker was the former Executive Director of the State Bar before Ms. Wilson.

Under Ms. Wilson's leadership, the California Legislature passed a bill to increase attorney dues for the first time in 20 years from $123 to $438 for active attorneys. The bill was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in October of 2019.


Committees of the California State Bar

Attorneys are encouraged to take on leadership roles by volunteering their time to serve on a committee of the California State Bar Association or external entities. Some committees include public members who are not attorneys.

The committees of the California State Bar Association and external entities include the following:

  • Committee of Bar Examiners
  • Legal Services Trust Fund Commission
  • Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation – Review Committee
  • Lawyer Assistance Program Oversight Committee
  • Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation
  • Client Security Fund Commission
  • Council on Access and Fairness
  • Committee on Professional Responsibility & Conduct
  • California Board of Legal Specialization

Before applying to serve on a committee, attorneys should review the committee descriptions on the State Bar website to determine which committees have vacancies for public members, and only apply for appointment to a committee that has a vacancy for a public member.


Registering with the California State Bar

An applicant can begin the admissions process by registering online with the California State Bar as a law student or attorney applicant. The applicant can then track the status of an application and eligibility with an Admissions account or Status Screen.

Registering with the California State Bar costs $119 and is required prior to:

  • submitting the application for moral character
  • submitting the application to take the California Bar Exam (which is different from registering with the California State Bar).

Applicants can also obtain certification to practice as a law student. Law school students are advised to register with the California State Bar within 90 days of matriculation in law school. 


California Bar Exam Requirements

Before becoming an attorney in California, the applicant must pass the California Bar Examination. The State Bar of California administers the bar examination to more than 16,000 potential licensees annually.

The leadership within the California State Bar is often criticized for doing little to fix the problems with California's bar exam. The bar exam in California consistently has the lowest passage rates in the country. In other words, the state of California is often listed as one of the states with the hardest bar exam to pass on the first attempt.

Many believe the California Bar exam is hard to pass because the Performance Test does not test substantive law. Instead, the Performance Test focused on a set of skills. The California bar exam is offered over two days every February and July. The written portion of the examination takes place on the first day. The MBE portion is administered on the second day.

The State Bar's Committee of Bar Examiners is responsible for developing, administering and grading the California Bar Examination. The Attorneys' Examination is open to attorneys who have been admitted to the active practice of law and are in good standing for at least four years in another U.S. jurisdiction,

After passing the bar exam, applicants must take the Attorney Oath and submitted their oath card to the State Bar before becoming eligible to practice law in California. After submitting the oath card to the State Bar, the attorney's names will appear on the State Bar roll of licensed attorneys accessible on the State Bar website.

A new law in California recently raised the fees attorneys are required to pay the State Bar of California by 27 percent, the first such increase in two decades. After the increase, how much does it now cost to take the California bar? As of 2020, the fee to sit for the California bar for non-attorney applicants is $860.

The 2020 State Bar annual fees are due February 3, 2020. Late payments will incur penalties. The late payment penalties is $100 for active fee owed and $30 for the inactive fee owed.


Searching the California Bar License Status

How do I check a lawyer's license with the California Bar? Lawyers are licensed to practice by each state. The California Bar publishes information about the attorneys that are licensed to practice in that state. If the attorney doesn't show up on the list, then the attorney is not licensed to practice in California.

Visit the website of the California State Bar to validate the attorney's bar license status. You can also use the directory to search for an attorney by entering the name or bar number. The search feature allows you to search the database for names that sound similar.

The advanced search features give you the ability to search for certified specialists in one of eleven (11) different specialty practice areas of the law. The search feature also lets you narrow your search to find lawyers who speak a foreign language.

The official bar record includes the following information for each attorney: 

  • name
  • address
  • bar number
  • law school attended
  • status of practice
  • legal specialty (if the attorney is board certified)
  • sections membership

Additionally, the attorney has the option to add other information that is not verified by the State Bar including:

  • the attorney's photograph
  • a link to the website of the attorney's law firm
  • languages are spoken by the lawyer or the law firm employees
  • the attorney's self-designated areas of practice

The public can also find information about whether any formal disciplinary charges were filed against the attorney by the State Bar of California, including the disposition of the charges and any public record of discipline.


Complaints Against Lawyers in California

The State Bar of California (sometimes called the California Bar Association) is responsible for disciplining attorneys and processes 16,000 complaints annually. From the Attorney Complaint's section of the State Bar’s website, you can find information about how to file a complaint against an attorney in California. The Attorney Complaint Hotline is 1-800-843-9053 in California or 1-213-765-1200 from outside California. 

A complaint against an attorney can be made to the California Bar Association in other languages by using the multi-lingual attorney complaint service. The toll-free complaint hotline even provides on-demand interpreter assistance in more than 200 languages.

Complaints about attorney misconduct can also be filed online. On the website, attorney complaint forms are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese.

The complaint form often includes a written statement and documentation that supports the claim of attorney misconduct. After the complaint is filed, the person making the complaint will receive a notice in the mail confirming that the complaint was made.

The complaint is then reviewed by an attorney with the State Bar to determine if the complaint describes possible ethics violations and shows that the attorney acted unethically. As part of the process, the State Bar might contact the attorney and advise them that the complaint was filed. The review process often takes several weeks.

If the claim is substantiated, then the State Bar will send a notice to the attorney of its intent to file charges and may try to settle the case. The State Bar Court will review any settlement agreement which explains the discipline to be imposed.

If the discipline includes suspension or disbarment, it must be reviewed and approved by the California Supreme Court. Otherwise, the discipline can be ordered by the State Bar court. All public discipline is posted on the website of the California State Bar. The most severe types of disciplinary sanctions are disbarments and suspensions.

Victims of attorney theft might be entitled to reimbursement from funds paid by the California State Bar's Client Security Fund. Each year, the fund pays nearly $6 million to victims. The funds come from fees assessed on licensed attorneys in California.


Los Angeles Office of the California State Bar

The Los Angeles Office of the California Bar Association provides professional services for lawyers in the State of California and consumer services for the public. The LA California Bar Association office is located at 1149 S. Hill Street in Los Angeles, CA. The zip code is 90015.

The California State Bar's LA Office is open during the week from Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The phone number for customer service or intakes is (213) 765-1000. The Attorney Complaints Service/Intake and Hotline for the LA California State Bar Association is 800-843-9053.


Additional Resources

Bar Associations in California - Find a list of legal organizations and bar associations in California, including the California Lawyers Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Consumer Attorneys of California, and the California Employment Lawyers Association. Find links to a variety of voluntary California bar associations organized by specialty area.

Lawyer Referral Services in California - When the public needs to find a qualified attorney, many local bar associations in California help by managing lawyer referral services. For a small fee, the referral service will provide the user with the contact information for a qualified attorney who is willing to provide an initial consultation (usually at no additional costs). 

Search for a Lawyers in California by Name - Find a directory of lawyers practicing in California listed in Lawyer Legion, an online attorney directory that used bar-sanctioned credentials to rank attorneys across various practice areas.


This article was last updated on Friday, February 28, 2020.

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