The State Bar of California certifies Lawyer Referral Services in California. To qualify, the services must conform with the standards adopted by the California Supreme Court in Section 6155 of the Business and Professions Code.
The American Bar Association also recognizes lawyer referral services throughout the United States that meet additional standards set by the ABA.
These community-based services in California are often sponsored by county-level bar associations. Some city-level bar associations also sponsor Lawyer Referral Services in the Golden State.
The Lawyer Referral Services are partially funded by the consultation fee charged to the person seeking the referral. Additionally, the attorney must pay annual member dues to serve on a panel.
For many of these lawyer referral services, the attorney must pay the service a small percentage of any attorney fees received from the referral to the service.
Most of the referral services have Bilingual staff who can provide a referral to a Bilingual attorney. The staff will answer the initial call to determine whether a referral to a Panel Attorney is appropriate.
If an attorney is needed, the program will give the caller the name and telephone number of one or more licensed, insured, and experienced attorneys.
After receiving the referral from the lawyer referral service in California, you can contact the attorney's office directly to schedule a 30-minute consultation to discuss the case at no additional charge.
During the consultation, the client and attorney can discuss the additional attorney fees needed for any representation.
The Lawyer Referral Service also provides oversight or follow-up services after the initial referral. For instance, many of the services conduct a survey to determine customer satisfaction with the service.
Visit the website for each service for more information. If you see any information that needs to be corrected or updated, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The most popular lawyer referral programs in California are managed by county level bar associations. Unlike states like Texas and Florida, the State Bar of California does not sponsor its own Lawyer Referral Service. Visit the links below for more information about each service.
Serving Alameda County, San Francisco County, Contra Costa County
Serving Contra Costa County and east Alameda County
Serving Fresno County
Serving Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County
Serving San Bernardino County, Riverside County, Redlands, Victorville, Hesperia, Barstow, Ontario, and other locations in the Inland Empire and High Desert
Not all lawyer referral services are managed by county-level bar associations in California. Many of these services are managed by city or regional bar associations. Visit the links below for more information on each service.
The State Bar of California Certifies Lawyer Referral Services (LRS) - Visit the website for the State Bar of California to learn more about lawyer referral services within your city or county. Find a list of the services listed on the website or use the "search county programs" feature. You can also find the nearest LRS by calling the State Bar of California. The website answers frequently asked questions such as "What is a lawyer referral service?" and "How important is certification?"
Rules and Regulations of the State Bar of California Pertaining to Lawyer Referral Services - The rules include the Minimum Standards for a Lawyer Referral Service in California which became effective on January 1, 1997. Visit the website for the State Bar of California to find the rules governing lawyer referral services. Read more about the definition of a lawyer referral service, the purposes of the services, and the eligibility requirements of panel attorneys. Find the forms for application for certification to operate a lawyer referral service. The rules regulate the fees charged by a lawyer referral service in California. Rule 4 for the Definition of a Lawyer Referral Service provides that the term means an individual, partnership, corporation, association, or any other entity, or a service or agency of an entity, which operates for the direct or indirect purpose of referring potential clients to lawyers, whether or not the term “referral service” is used. This definition shall not apply to those entities or persons excepted by Business & Professional Code Section 6155, subdivision (c) and (h).
Rules for Lawyer Referral Services in California - Visit the website for the State Bar of California to find the rules governing the regulation of lawyer referral services including TITLE 3. PROGRAMS AND SERVICES Division 5. Providers of Programs and Services Chapter 3 on Lawyer Referral Services. Find the requirements for certification, the application, fees, the issuance of certification, audits, suspension of certification, and panel membership fees. The rules for publicity of the services must indicate that the purpose of the lawyer referral service is to serve its community and improve the quality and affordability of legal services as required by the rules.
If you need to find an attorney in California, then consider the benefits of using a lawyer referral service sponsored by a local county-level or city-level bar association.
These services screen the attorneys for their good standing with the bar and experience in a given practice area. Non-profit lawyer referral services in California have been helping individuals and businesses find a qualified attorney for generations.
Lawyer Referral Services provide an important alternative to using a commercial online directory.
Chapter 3. Lawyer Referral Services
Article 1. Certification
Rule 3.800 Certification required
An individual or organization that refers prospective clients to attorneys must comply with minimum standards and be certified by the State Bar of California as a lawyer referral service unless exempt by law. See Business & Professions Code § 6155. See also California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1-600, Legal Service Programs. These rules set forth the minimum standards and certification requirements.
Rule 3.800 adopted as Rule 3.700 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.800 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.801 Application for certification
(A) To initiate or continue certification, a lawyer referral service must submit an Application for Certification as a Lawyer Referral Service and a separate application fee for each county in which it operates. The State Bar may waive the separate application requirement for a lawyer referral service operating in more than one county on written request supported by evidence and for good cause.
(B) Notwithstanding provision (A), a lawyer referral service operating in two or more counties defined by the State Bar as underserved is required to submit only one application and one application fee to initiate or continue certification.
(C) Every application must include panel membership criteria, including criteria for suspension and removal that provide for written notice and review with an opportunity to respond.
(D) An application for initial certification may be submitted at any time. An application for continuance of certification must be submitted with the annual report required by Rule 3.828. Within a reasonable time, the State Bar will notify an applicant that certification has been granted or denied or that an application is incomplete or noncompliant.
(E) An application must be completed in accordance with application instructions and filed with any required fee.
Rule 3.801 adopted as Rule 3.701 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.801 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.802 Application fees
(A) Application fees for initial and continued certification, which are set forth in the Schedule of Charges and Deadlines, depend on the number of counties in which a service operates and whether a service is non-profit or for-profit. Application fees may not exceed $10,000 or one percent of gross annual revenues, whichever is less. See Business & Professions Code § 6155(f)(4).
(B) An application fee not received by the deadline is subject to the late penalty set forth in the Schedule of Charges and Deadlines. If the fee and penalty are not received within thirty days of the deadline, certification may be suspended and the lawyer referral service must cease any activity subject to these rules.
(C) Fifty percent of an initial application fee is refundable if an applicant submits a written request to withdraw the application within twenty days of submitting it. An application fee is otherwise not refundable.
(D) An application or late fee for continued certification may be waived or reduced because of demonstrated financial necessity as evidenced by gross annual revenues, panel size, geographic area served, length of time in operation, or the like.
Rule 3.802 adopted as Rule 3.702 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.802 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.803 Denial of application
(A) An application for initial certification that fails to comply with these rules is denied in a written notice explaining the denial.
(1) Upon receipt of a notice of denial, an initial applicant may submit a written request for reconsideration within thirty days of the date of the notice. The request must explain why the application was compliant and be supported by any relevant evidence.
(2) Within sixty days of receiving a request for reconsideration of denial, the State Bar may grant certification or confirm denial of the initial application. If the denial is confirmed, the applicant may submit a petition for review to the State Bar Court in accordance with its rules.
(3) Denial of an application for initial certification does not preclude an applicant from submitting a new application. A new application must be submitted in accordance with application instructions and with the fee set forth in the Schedule of Charges and Deadlines.
(B) An application for continued certification that fails to comply with these rules subjects a lawyer referral service to suspension or revocation pursuant to rule 3.806.
Rule 3.803 adopted as Rule 3.703 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.803 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.804 Issuance of certification
The State Bar may grant certification with or without conditions for two years or a shorter time specified by the State Bar. Certification terminates at the end of the certification period unless renewed in accordance with these rules.
Rule 3.804 adopted as Rule 3.704 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.804 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.805 Audits
Before granting or continuing certification, waiving an application fee, or at any other time, the State Bar may conduct an audit to determine whether a lawyer referral service has complied with these rules. Any audit must be at the expense of the lawyer referral service.
Rule 3.805 adopted as Rule 3.705 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.805 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.806 Suspension or revocation of certification. See Business & Professions Code § 6155(g).
(A) The State Bar may suspend or revoke certification of a lawyer referral service for failure to comply with these rules or for other good cause.
(B) A lawyer referral service is entitled to notice of intention to suspend or revoke certification that states the reasons for the State Bar’s action.
(C) A lawyer referral service may file a written request for review of suspension or revocation of certification within thirty days of receipt of the notice. The request must explain why the action was inappropriate and be supported by any relevant evidence. Failure to request review results in final suspension or revocation of certification.
(D) The State Bar must respond to a request for review that meets the requirements of these rules within sixty days of filing and give the lawyer referral service an opportunity to support the request. The State Bar may then continue, suspend, or revoke certification with or without conditions as it deems appropriate. The State Bar must provide the lawyer referral service a written statement of the reasons for its determination.
(E) Within thirty days of receipt of the notice of suspension or revocation, the lawyer referral service may submit a petition for review to the State Bar Court in accordance with its rules. Certification is suspended or revoked for failure to submit a timely petition for review of suspension or revocation.
(F) Pending review of a denial to continue certification, certification remains in effect unless the State Bar suspends or revokes it.
(G) When suspension or revocation of certification is final, a lawyer referral service must immediately cease any activity subject to these rules, and the State Bar must notify every panel member of the lawyer referral service that certification has been suspended or revoked.
Rule 3.806 adopted as Rule 3.706 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.806 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.807 Complaints about a lawyer referral service
(A) The State Bar must review a complaint about a lawyer referral service submitted pursuant to these rules (Rule 3.820(E)) within a reasonable time and
(1) if the complaint demonstrates an apparent violation of these rules or other authority provide the service written notice of the complaint and an opportunity to respond; and
(2) provide written notice to the complainant regarding what action, if any, it deems appropriate.
(B) A complaint and investigations related to it are the property of the State Bar and remain confidential until final suspension or revocation of certification or a proceeding is initiated in State Bar Court, whichever is earlier.
Rule 3.807 adopted as Rule 3.707 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.807 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.808 Notice
In these rules, a notice or other document is deemed received the fifth day after being sent by first-class mail or upon actual receipt when delivered otherwise.
Rule 3.808 adopted as Rule 3.708 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.808 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.820 General duties of a lawyer referral service
A lawyer referral service must
(A) have a governing committee; one or more panels of attorneys to provide legal services; and a staff to evaluate and process requests for legal assistance;
(B) encourage widespread attorney membership (Business & Professions Code § 6155(f)(1));
(C) serve its community and improve the quality and affordability of legal services by
(1) assisting those in need of legal services to find a qualified, insured attorney or other appropriate legal services, including dispute resolution;
(2) providing the public with general information about appropriate legal services; and
(3) establishing services for persons of limited means unless it demonstrates that doing so is unreasonable or impractical given the community needs; its financial resources, staff size, or panel membership; the fees charged by its panel members; or the availability of pro bono or other legal services for persons of limited means;
(D) charge no fee or combination of fees that increase a client’s cost beyond that normally charged for legal services or that decrease the quantity or quality of services otherwise available to the client (Business & Professions Code § 6155(a)(2));
(E) tell each client how to submit a complaint about the service or one of its panel members and inform the client that an unresolved complaint may be submitted to the State Bar, provided it is in writing and supported by factual information that demonstrates a violation of these rules or other applicable authority;
(F) if non-profit use its income only to pay reasonable operating expenses and to fund its pro bono, legal services, and other public service programs;
(G) fully cooperate with any State Bar audit (See Rule 3.805.);
(H) provide each panel member a copy of these rules; and
(I) at all times comply with these rules and applicable law.
Rule 3.820 adopted as Rule 3.720 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.820 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.821 Ownership (Business & Professions Code § 6155(b).)
A lawyer referral service owned or operated by a bar association is deemed to be owned or operated by its governing committee. An attorney may not directly or indirectly own or operate a lawyer referral service if the attorney individually or jointly receives more than twenty percent of the referrals of the lawyer referral service.
Rule 3.821 adopted as Rule 3.721 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.821 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.822 Governing committee
(A) A lawyer referral service must be supervised by a governing committee of three or more members. A majority of the governing committee must be active members of the State Bar. No more than half the members of the governing committee may receive referrals from the lawyer referral service.
(B) The governing committee must
(1) establish criteria for subject matter and general panel membership and use the criteria to evaluate panel members at least once every two years;
(2) establish and assess compliance with the referral procedures required by these rules (Rule 3.826);
(3) review and submit the annual report required by these rules (Rule 3.828);
(4) annually survey a random sample of at least ten percent of the clients of the service to determine client satisfaction with services and fees;
(5) on the basis of the annual survey, make any operational changes it deems necessary; and
(6) meet at least quarterly.
Rule 3.822 adopted as Rule 3.722 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.822 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.823 Panels
(A) A lawyer referral service must establish panels of attorney members qualified to provide legal services to the public. The panels must be organized by subject matter but may include a general panel. A lawyer referral service is encouraged to establish moderate and no-fee panels and other special panels that respond to the needs of the public.
(B) At least twenty attorney members, ten of whom are from separate and independent law firms, are required for all lawyer referral services, and each panel must have at least four members. The State Bar may waive these minimum requirements if a lawyer referral service operates in an underserved county or provides written evidence that the size of the community or the number of its attorneys warrants a lesser number.
(C) A lawyer referral service must require that each panel member
(1) have errors and omissions insurance in the amounts set forth in the Schedule of Charges and Deadlines and provide proof of insurance to the State Bar upon request (Business & Professions Code 6155(f)(6));
(2) not receive referrals evaluated and processed by a lawyer referral service staff member employed or otherwise compensated by the panel attorney;
(3) agree in writing to submit any fee dispute to mandatory arbitration compliant with statute or State Bar requirements upon election of a client referred by the lawyer referral service. See Business & Professions Code § 6200 et seq.
(D) A lawyer referral service may disclose a panel member’s past performance when the information is accurate, complete, and not misleading.
Rule 3.823 adopted as Rule 3.723 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.823 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.824 Eligibility for membership
(A) Only an active member of the State Bar practicing in the community served by the lawyer referral service may be a member of the service. To serve on a subject matter panel, such a member must meet the experience and other substantial and objective criteria of the lawyer referral service. Certification as a legal specialist qualifies an attorney to serve on a panel that deals with the area of certification, provided the attorney meets other criteria for panel membership.
B) Panel membership may not be contingent upon membership in a sponsoring entity.
Rule 3.824 adopted as Rule 3.724 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.824 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.825 Panel membership fees
(A) Panel membership fees must be reasonable, encourage widespread panel membership, and otherwise comply with these rules and applicable law. Business & Professions Code § 6155(f)(1). See Rule 3.820(B).
(B) Panel membership fees may not in any way be based on or guarantee contacts, calls, cases, referrals, or clients.
(C) Panel members who are not members of a sponsoring entity may be required to pay a nominal charge for administrative services.
Rule 3.825 adopted as Rule 3.725 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.825 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.826 Referrals
(A) The governing committee of a lawyer referral service must establish fair and impartial procedures to assure that referrals are allocated equitably to panel members and respond insofar as possible to clients’ legal needs and other circumstances, such as geographic convenience and language issues.
(B) All referrals in a geographical area may not be made to a single attorney or law firm. The State Bar may deny certification or recertification for failure to make referrals fairly and impartially to panel members or to maintain current and complete records of referrals.
(C) A referral may not
(1) discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, age, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability, medical condition, marital status, political affiliation, or veteran status;
(2) violate restrictions against unlawful solicitation and false and misleading advertising or otherwise violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or law applicable to a member of the State Bar;
(3) be made directly or indirectly by a person employed or otherwise compensated by an attorney or firm to whom the referral is made; or
(4) be made exclusively by technological means without staff evaluation of client needs and panel members’ qualifications. Business & Professions Code § 6155(h)(2).
Rule 3.826 adopted as Rule 3.726 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.826 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.827 Records
(A) A lawyer referral service must maintain and provide to the State Bar upon request current records for
(1) each panel member that include
(a) name, contact information, and qualifications;
(b) number and type of referrals; and
(c) fees remitted for membership, referrals or consultations, advertising; or any other reason; and
(2) each referral that include
(a) the client’s name and contact information;
(b) type of matter and date of referral; and
(c) panel member to whom the referral was made.
(B) Any record in the possession of the State Bar pertaining to a lawyer referral service is the property of the State Bar and confidential unless authorized for disclosure by these rules, order of the Board of Trustees, or consent of the lawyer referral service.
Rule 3.827 adopted as Rule 3.727 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.827 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.828 Annual report
(A) The governing committee of a lawyer referral service must submit an annual report of its activities and those of the lawyer referral service. The report must at a minimum
(1) provide a detailed accounting of
(a) all sources and amounts of income, expenses, and reserves during the reporting period;
(b) the disposition of any reserves or surpluses derived from activities of the service during the reporting period and the immediately preceding reporting period;
(2) include statistics derived from the records the service is required to maintain; and
(3) summarize the annual client survey and any operational changes it prompted. Rule 3.822(B)(4) and (5).
(B) Failure to submit an annual report on time suspends certification unless the State Bar extends the report deadline for good cause.
Rule 3.828 adopted as Rule 3.728 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.828 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014.
Rule 3.829 Publicity
(A) Publicity, which includes advertising or any other kind of promotional material, must
(1) indicate that the purpose of the lawyer referral service is to serve its community and improve the quality and affordability of legal services as required by these rules (See Rule 3.820(C)); and
(2) acknowledge any sponsorship by the lawyer referral service; identify the counties in which the service operates; and provide the State Bar certification number or certification mark.
(B) Any publicity by a lawyer referral service must comply with the California Rules of Professional Conduct and any other legal requirements.
(C) A copy of any publicity
(1) must be submitted with an application for certification or recertification; and
(2) may be required with the annual report. Rule 3.828.
Rule 3.829 adopted as Rule 3.729 January 7, 2011; renumbered as Rule 3.829 November 4, 2011; approved by the Supreme Court effective January 21, 2014. Amended March 7, 2014; amendment approved by the Supreme Court effective December 1, 2014.
This article was last updated on Friday, February 19, 2021.