California Legal Services Organizations

Article III, Div. 3, Ch. 1, Art.1 of the California Rules of the State Bar and Rule 9.45 of the California Court Rules allow eligible attorneys working for approved legal services organizations to practice law for up to three years in California under limited circumstances.

Attorneys must:

  • Be members in good standing in each jurisdiction where the member is licensed to practice law.
  • Remain an active member in good standing in at least one United States’ state, jurisdiction, possession, territory, or dependency other than California while practicing law as a registered legal services attorney in California.
  • Cannot be disbarred, have charges pending, or suspended in any other jurisdiction.
  • Cannot have failed the California bar exam within five years immediately preceding the application. Registered attorneys that subsequently fail a California bar exam are not affected.
  • Meet the applicable character and fitness standards. Attorneys may practice law while awaiting the determination of moral character.
  • Meet the minimum CLE requirements. Attorneys must also satisfy, in his or her first year of practice, all of the 25-hour MCLE credits that California Bar members must complete every three years. This includes four hours of legal ethics, an hour of prevention, detection, and treatment of substance abuse, and one hour of eliminating bias in the legal profession. The Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (“MPRE”) is not requied.

Qualifying Legal Services Provider
A “qualifying legal services provider” is either:

  • A non-profit entity incorporated and operated exclusively in California with the primary purpose and function of providing legal services without charge in civil matters to indigent persons, especially underserved client group (elderly, persons with disabilities, juveniles, and non-English-speaking persons)
  • A program operated exclusively in California by a non-profit ABA approved law school or a California State bar accredited law school that has operated for at least two years at a cost of at least $20,000 per year as an identifiable law school unit with a primary purpose and function of providing legal services without charge to indigent persons.

Qualifying legal service providers must:

  • Meet the statutory requirements for a legal services project or receive a Grant from the Legal Services Trust Fund.
  • Complete the Application for Approval as Qualifying Legal Services Provider and be approved by the California Bar as a qualifying employer.
  • Complete the Declaration of Qualifying Legal Services Provider (discussed below).
  • Comply with California Bar quality control procedures for qualifying legal services providers.
  • Agrees to notify the California Bar, in writing, within 30 days of the following:
    • The attorney has terminated employment;
    • The attorney is no longer eligible for employment as required by the rules;
    • The supervising attorney no longer meets the requirement of the rules;
    • The status as a qualified legal services provider has changed; or
    • The office address has changed.

Practice and Restrictions
Registered attorneys may practice law in California only while working, with or without pay, at a qualifying legal services provider and only on behalf of the qualifying legal service provider’s clients. Attorneys may also practice as California Registered In-House Counsel simultaneously if so qualified.

Attorneys must:

  • Practice no more than a total of three years as a Registered Legal Services Attorney.
  • Use the title “Registered Legal Services Attorney” and no other title in connection with the performed activities.
  • Attorneys cannot claim to be a member of the California Bar in any way.
  • Maintain with the California Bar a current address that is the California office address for the attorney’s employer and maintain a current email address.

Supervising Attorney
In addition, the practice must be under the supervision of an attorney who is a member in good standing of the California Bar and employed by a qualifying legal services provider. A supervising attorney must:

  • Be an active member in good standing of the California Bar.
  • Have actively engaged in the practice of law in California and be a member in good standing of the California Bar for at least two years immediately preceding the time of the supervision.
  • Have practiced law as a full-time occupation for at least four years.
  • Cannot supervise more than two registered legal service attorneys concurrently.
  • Assume professional responsibility for the registered legal service attorney’s work.
  • Assist, counsel, and provide direct supervision of the registered legal services attorney’s activities and must review the activities to the extent required for the protection of the client.
  • Read, approve, and personally sign any pleadings, briefs, or other similar documents prepared by the registered legal services attorney before their filing.
  • Read and approve the execution of any document by any person who is not a member of the California Bar before their execution.
  • May, in his or her absence, designate another attorney meeting the applicable supervising attorney requirements.

Attorneys are required to submit:

  • A Declaration of Qualifying Legal Services Provider that states:
    • The organization is qualified as a legal services provider.
    • The attorney will work, with or without pay, as an attorney for the organization.
    • The attorney will be supervised as specified by the rules.
    • The qualifying legal services provider and the supervising attorney assume professional responsibility for any work performed.
    • Deems the attorney, upon reasonable inquiry, that he or she is of good moral character.
    • An Attorney Declaration to the California Bar that he or she will be subject to the disciplinary authority of the California Supreme Court and the California Bar. The Declaration must attest that he or she will not practice law in California other than under supervision of a qualifying legal services provider as a registered legal services attorney.

Reporting and Renewal
Registered legal services attorneys must:

  • Annually renew their registrations and submit the applicable fees.
  • Report any changes in the attorney’s supervisor.
  • Report to the California bar within 30 days any of the following:
    • Changes in status in any jurisdiction where admitted to practice law and engaged in the practice of law, transfer to inactive status, disciplinary action, suspension, resignation, disbarment, or a functional equivalent.
    • Termination of employment; or
    • Any information required by the State Bar Act, such as those required by §§ 6068(o) and 6086.8(c) of the California Business and Professions Code, or by other legal authority.
    • Attorneys are required to submit a new application before beginning employment with a new qualifying legal services provider.

Termination occurs upon:

  • The failure to meet the eligibility requirements;
  • Admission to the California Bar;
  • Upon repeal or termination of the Registered Legal Services Attorney Program; or
  • Upon request.

Attorneys meeting the eligibility and application requirements may reapply.