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Who Can Practice Law in California?


The California Business and Professions Code states that “[No] person shall practice law in California unless the person is an active member of the State Bar.” (Bus & Prof Code § 6125) This means that only lawyers who possess an “active” California Bar license are permitted to practice law in the state.

For purposes of determining who can (and cannot) practice law in California, “practice” includes both representing clients at trial (and in other litigation capacities) and transactional legal practice, as well as engaging in any other activities which California law defines as “the practice of law.”

The Business and Professions Code further defines an “active” Bar member as “persons admitted and licensed to practice law … except justices and judges of courts of record during their continuance in office.” (Bus & Prof Code § 6002) The code further clarifies that persons admitted to practice law means those admitted and licensed to practice in California. Attorneys licensed in other states are not automatically licensed, or permitted, to practice law in California.


California restricts the practice of law to licensed attorneys who are active members of the California Bar for two primary reasons:

1. Allowing unlicensed people to practice law may threaten the integrity of the California courts and judicial process.

2. If unlicensed people were allowed to practice law, members of the public could suffer significant injury, as a result of being represented by people who are not qualified to practice law or act on the client’s behalf.

The practice of law requires specific education, skills, and training–skills that attorneys must demonstrate by passing the California Bar Examination and obtaining a license from the California state bar. Moreover, licensed attorneys must complete a specified number of hours of continuing legal education on a regular basis, and report compliance with these “CLE” requirements to the Bar every three years, as a condition of continuing to hold “active” licensed status. Without the licensing requirements, members of the public would have no way to know whether the lawyer who represents them has the requisite training to practice law.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Malpractice (professional negligence) claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who represented you, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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