If you need to hire an attorney, you may be dealing with an important, time-sensitive issue. With so much at stake, it’s normal to feel anxious about the decision of whom to hire. While you may have some referrals from friends or family, you should do a bit more research. You may want to know how to search if a lawyer is licensed and whether they will be a good fit for your issue.
How to search if your lawyer is licensed
Every lawyer must be licensed to practice in the state where they work. You can start by searching the attorney’s name on these public databases:
- Alabama: Alabama State Bar
- Alaska: Alaska Bar Association
- Arizona: State Bar of Arizona
- Arkansas: Arkansas Judiciary
- California: State Bar of California
- Colorado: Colorado Supreme Court
- Connecticut: State of Connecticut Judicial Branch
- Delaware: Delaware Courts
- District of Columbia: DC Bar
- Florida: Florida Bar
- Georgia: State Bar of Georgia
- Hawaii: Hawaii State Bar Association
- Idaho: Idaho State Bar
- Illinois: Supreme Court of Illinois
- Indiana: Indiana Roll of Attorneys
- Iowa: Iowa Judicial Branch
- Kansas: Kansas Supreme Court
- Kentucky: Kentucky Bar Association
- Louisiana: Louisiana State Bar Association
- Maine: Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar
- Maryland: Maryland Courts
- Massachusetts: Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers
- Michigan: State Bar of Michigan
- Minnesota: Minnesota Supreme Court
- Mississippi: Mississippi Bar
- Missouri: Missouri Bar
- Montana: Montana Bar
- Nebraska: Nebraska Supreme Court
- Nevada: State Bar of Nevada
- New Hampshire: New Hampshire Bar Association: You must call (603) 224-6942 to check an attorney’s license.
- New Jersey: New Jersey Courts
- New Mexico: State Bar of New Mexico
- New York: New York State Bar Association
- North Carolina: North Carolina State Bar
- North Dakota: State of North Dakota Courts
- Ohio: Supreme Court of Ohio
- Oklahoma: Oklahoma Bar Association
- Oregon: Oregon State Bar
- Pennsylvania: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
- Rhode Island: Rhode Island Bar Association
- South Carolina: South Carolina Judicial Branch
- South Dakota: State Bar of South Dakota: You must call 605-224-7554 to check an attorney’s license.
- Tennessee: Supreme Court of Tennessee
- Texas: State Bar of Texas
- Utah: Utah State Bar
- Vermont: Vermont Judiciary: Select dropdown for “Attorneys in Good Standing.”
- Virginia: Virginia State Bar
- Washington: Washington State Bar Association
- West Virginia: West Virginia State Bar
- Wisconsin: State Bar of Wisconsin
- Wyoming: Wyoming State Bar
- Virgin Islands: Virgin Islands Bar Association
Search the status of an attorney’s license
When you plug an attorney’s name into your state’s website above, you may see details like their address, bar license number, how long they have been in practice and the status of their license.
While your state may only offer limited information, it may be possible to learn more. For example, if you want to know why an attorney was disbarred, you may contact the American Bar Association for more details.
Search for legal specializations
Depending on your issue, you may need more specialized legal advice. In addition to checking an attorney’s bar license, you should also learn about their practice, said Tiffany Hilliard Lipscomb, a Nashville, Tennessee-based paralegal with more than 10 years of estate-planning experience. “If you’re going through a divorce, you don’t want an attorney who spends 90% of their time on trademarks—with divorces on the side,” she said.
Some areas of law—like probate and estate planning—may require another designation. You can search for a probate and estate-planning attorney through the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) through the organization’s website.
“They have to practice for a minimum of five years in the practice area and take an exam to get that particular designation, in addition to having taken the bar exam and gone to law school,” Lipscomb said.
Why is it important to search if your attorney is licensed?
There are a couple of reasons why you should check if your attorney is licensed, Lipscomb said. First, if you work with an attorney without a valid license, their work may not be legally binding, which means their advice or documents may not hold up in a court of law.
Another important reason to review: An attorney without a license may not have up-to-date knowledge in their practice area. “There’s a lot of areas of law that change pretty frequently, so you’re going to want to make sure an attorney is still licensed,” Lipscomb said. “That way you will know they have been required to keep up with their particular practice area.”
Do your homework before hiring an attorney
It’s not easy to find the right attorney for legal advice—but once you have a list of prospects from your state, it may be easier to narrow down your options with a little research. Start by searching each attorney’s license to try and make sure they are in good standing to practice law.