Attorneys, like doctors, receive a license to practice their profession by the governing agency which oversees their performance of the duties. In the State of California, the California State Bar issues a license to an attorney to practice law under the direction of the California Supreme Court. This license is issued to an individual who has completed a proscribed cause of studies and then passes an examination. Completing this examination successfully is known as “passing the bar,” which refers to the fact that an attorney can now enter a court room and pass “bar” at the front of the court room, separating the spectators from the attorneys and Judge.
Once the attorney has been “licensed” to practice law, there are no further restrictions placed on the attorney as to the “type of law” they can practice in the State Court (in order to practice in the Tax Court, in the Federal Courts, and the Patent Courts, additional licenses are required, most of which do not require any type of exam). An attorney may receive a “specialization certificate” in one of many areas of law, but aside from this fact, there are no restrictions based upon an attorney’s experience, skills, or training.
In choosing an attorney, a potential client should consider various factors before engaging the service of a particular attorney or their firm. It is important to realize, that there is no individual attorney who can do “everything” for a client, and a potential client should become familiar with the attorney’s experience, expertise, their support staff and what type of matters the firm has handled in the past. Depending on the complexity of the matter, a potential client needs to be assured that they have selected an attorney who is capable of handling their matter.
I do not wish to imply that an individual who has just become licensed to practice law is incompetent. What I do wish to indicate is that a person who is electing to use a new attorney should determine if that person has some experience in the area in which the client has need, such as acting as a law clerk in the field to which they are being engaged, or if they have support (a mentor or employer) to whom they can turn to seek advice and counsel. As with doctors who have a general license to practice medicine, you would not go to a dermatologist when you are in need of heart surgery, at the same time, you should not go to an attorney who specializes in Family Law when you have a business problem. You should also be assured that the attorney you choose is willing to understand his/her limitations and when necessary, refer certain matters to other competent attorneys. By way of example, while I provide services to clients in the business area, contractual area, taxation issues and business reorganizations, I do not and will not provide advice on a regular basis relating to personal injury matters, I refer these types of matters to an attorney who is a competent personal injury attorney. The same “rule” applies to matters pertaining to family law matters. Such referral system is another strength that a potential client needs to determine exists when engaging the service of an attorney.
When you need to seek the assistance of an attorney, remember that you are the potential client and that you have the right to interview the attorney to determine whether or not they will be able to provide the skills and services that you require. When asking for a meeting with the attorney, they should provide an initial consultation at no charge (approximately 30 minutes), in order for you to determine if the attorney you are seeking to hire has the skills that you require, is someone you can interact with on a personal level, and if the fee structure for the type of services you require are acceptable. Ask the attorney if he has some references he/she can provide to you, and do not hesitate to check with the State Bar to see if any “disciplinary actions” have been taken against the attorney. Remember, if you have a business issue, make sure you are using an attorney that is well skilled in the aspects of the business matter that you are attempting to manage.