The State Bar of California’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel issued the following fraud alert today to warn the public to report and watch out for potential legal fraud in response to separation of immigrant children from their parents and mass detention along the southern Unites States border.

In light of such events, the State Bar seeks to make sure immigrants and their families know that everyone, no matter their immigration status, should have access to counsel and due process.

“Everyone in California deserves access to legal services. The recent federal immigration actions along the border, which have separated children from their parents, and the ongoing concerns faced by immigrant communities increase the potential that the unscrupulous will try and take advantage of those who are most in need,” said Melanie Lawrence, Interim Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar of California.

Read the fraud alert (Lee la alerta en Español)

Fraud Alert: How to avoid fraud for immigrants seeking legal aid following family separations and mass detention

The State Bar advises anyone in California to avoid fraud from attorneys and unlicensed legal providers, including non-attorneys using the title notario, by taking some of the following steps:

Ask for the attorney’s full name and State Bar number. Before hiring the attorney or paying any sum of money, look up the attorney on the State Bar website (, or the state in which they are licensed, to see if their license is active and whether they have any history of discipline. Consumers can also call the State Bar at 800-843-9053.
Be wary of non-attorneys those who call themselves notarios; this is not authorized in California.
Make sure to get your contract in writing as well as receipts for payments you make.
Be wary if someone requires cash payments. If you must pay in cash, be sure to have a written receipt.

Also be wary of those who threaten to report your immigration status if you do not pay them immediately.

Keep a paper trail. If you don’t have a bank account, use a cashier’s check. If you’ve already made a payment, you are entitled to ask for an accounting of your bills.

California law prohibits lawyers or others acting on the behalf of a lawyer from:

Promising a particular outcome from the legal representation.

Lying about their ability to represent you in immigration court or act as your lawyer.

Seeking clients by mail unless the letter and envelope are clearly labeled as an advertisement.

If someone hires an immigration consultant rather than an attorney, it’s important to understand what an immigration consultant can and cannot do. Immigration consultants can help consumers fill out paperwork and translate and submit forms to government agencies, but they cannot give legal advice and cannot represent anyone in Immigration Court.

Attorneys or accredited representatives must be registered with the Executive Office of Immigration Review before appearing in Immigration Court. Immigration lawyers can practice immigration law in California even if they are licensed in another state. Still, any complaints about such attorneys will be forwarded to the correct state authorities.

Report notario fraud and other the unauthorized practice of law to the State Bar

People should report fraud by notarios and other unauthorized practice of law to the State Bar of California. Complaint forms are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian. Citizenship is not required to file a complaint, and the State Bar will not ask about immigration or citizenship status.

Additional information

Complaint form to report the unauthorized practice of law in English, Spanish, additional languages.

How to report an attorney for misconduct in English, Spanish, additional languages.
Legal aid organizations in California.

Legal resources for immigrants.

More information about immigration consultants or notarios.

The State Bar, which regulates the practice of law in California, cannot represent clients or refer them to a particular attorney. People needing a lawyer can contact the State Bar of California to connect with a certified lawyer referral service at 415-538-2250 or email

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