Do I need a lawyer? How do I find one?

Whether or not you need a lawyer depends on your specific situation.  For example, do you plan to file for divorce?  Are you facing a custody dispute?  Are you afraid that your children could be in danger if awarded to your spouse?  What kinds of assets are at stake?

Property settlements and custody arrangements can be complicated.  The ongoing threat of domestic violence only further complicates the situation.  A lawyer can tell you how the court may divide your property and help you put your settlement agreement into writing.  A lawyer could also help you understand your legal rights regarding your children, and present your best case for their custody and support.

You can probably find sufficient assistance, at little or no cost, to file for a TRO without hiring a lawyer.  Domestic violence cases often involve a variety of issues, including spousal support and the division of property, in which a lawyer’s assistance could have crucial impact on the outcome.  Only you know the extent of your situation.

If you decide that you need a lawyer and you don’t know one, ask a friend, co-worker, employer or business associate to recommend one.  Or, you could call a State Bar-certified lawyer referral service in your area.  To locate one, look in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory under “Attorney Referral Service” or call your local bar association.  For an online list of certified referral services, visit the Stat Bar’s Web site at

State Bar-certified lawyer referral services, which must meet minimum standards established by the California Supreme Court, can assist you in finding the right lawyer for your particular problem.  Most of these services offer half-hour consultations for a modest fee.

Attorneys who are members of certified lawyer referral services must carry insurance, agree to fee arbitration for fee disputes, meet certain standards of experience and be State Bar members in good standing.

Lawyer referral service fees do vary.  Don’t forget to ask whether there is a fee for the referral or initial consultation.  And if you decide to hire a lawyer, make sure you understand what you will be paying for, how much it will cost and when you will be expected to pay your bill.  you may want to talk to several attorneys before you hire one.

Lawyers who handle custody and divorce cases are called family law attorneys.  Some are “certified specialists” in family law.  This means that they have met standards for certification set by the State Bar of California.  However, not all lawyers who have experience and expertise in family law have sought certification.

What if you do not have enough money to pay for legal advice?  You may belong to a legal insurance plan that covers these kinds of services.  Or, if you have very little income, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal help.  Check the white pages of your telephone directory for a legal services program in your area.  (California’s new statewide legal services Web site - - can help you locate a local program and provide you with additional resources as well.)  Or ask a State Bar-certified lawyer referral service if it offers free legal advice for individuals with a low income or can refer you to a no-cost legal services organization.

For more information, see the State Bar pamphlet How Can I Find and Hire the Right Lawyer?   To find out how to obtain a free copy of this pamphlet and other State Bar consumer education pamphlets, call 415-538-2280 or send an e-mail to .  Or visit the State Bar’s Web site - - where you’ll find the consumer education pamphlets, as well as information on ordering them.  The pamphlets also can be ordered in bulk.

The State Bar of California
Office of Media & Information Services
180 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-1639
415-538-2280 (for pamphlets)

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