When shopping for services, the best way to find a good provider is to ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations. “Say, Bob, do you know a good plumber?” works well for services that many people use. But what do you do when you need a service that many of your friends and acquaintances haven’t used? For example, a lawyer.
If no one you know can recommend a lawyer – or recommend one for your particular legal issue – you’ll need to find one on your own. Fortunately, there is an organization that can help you choose: your local bar association. That’s not a meeting of the town drunks; it’s an organization of lawyers. Not drunken lawyers; lawyers are considered members of “the bar” thanks to early English courts in which the lawyers and judges were separated from the rest of the courtroom by a bar or railing. You may still see such a railing in U.S. courtrooms today. Lawyers take a bar examination to get their license to practice “before the bar” – and then they join the bar association.
Most state and local bar associations have a lawyer referral service of some kind. In sparsely populated areas with few lawyers, it may simply mean finding the number of the bar association in the phone book and calling. Where there are more lawyers – and more people in need of a lawyer – the bar association is likely to have a website with detailed contact information, legal reference information, a list of its members, and details about its referral service. It may even have an online referral request form.
Let’s look at a few examples: The North Carolina State Bar is a government agency that regulates the legal profession, and all licensed lawyers in North Carolina are members. Its Find a Lawyer web page offers advice for choosing a lawyer and a directory of certified specialists in several practice areas. The North Carolina Bar Association is a voluntary non-profit association of lawyers, and it has a statewide referral systemby phone or internet that will refer you to a lawyer in your area.
Also in North Carolina, the Mecklenburg County Bar Association has its own local referral service, also by phone or internet. You supply both your location and the type of issue that prompted you to look for a lawyer. The service will then refer you to a local lawyer who handles your type of case.
Most referrals are free – until you actually talk to the lawyer – although many referrals include an initial consultation at a reduced fee. That helps you to get a handle on your case and decide whether you need a lawyer, and if you want to hire this particular lawyer, without spending a bundle. A few referral services, such as San Diego’s North County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, include the initial consultation at no cost.
Some referrals charge a fee up front, for which you get a free consultation after you’re referred. A good example of this arrangement is the Santa Barbara County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, also in California.
If your state or local bar association has an website with contact information or links to its referral service, you can find it at CourtReference – without even cracking the phone book.