I bumped into a private investigator outside the Hall of Justice in Ventura this week. He told me that a couple of unscrupulous criminal lawyers who have offices in another county have been advertising in Ventura County.
What they do is milk clients for cash and then withdraw from the case after a person runs out of money.
The investigator said these lawyers never take these criminal cases to trial and do little legal work for their clients.
There is also the practice of other lawyers of sending advertising mail-outs to defendants after they get arrest and get out of jail.
Some of these lawyers who sent the mail outs are lazy, incompetent and charge high fees for their services, the investigator said.
He said people should be leery and not fooled by ads offering legal services and make outlandish promises, especially in civil cases.
There are lawyers in the courthouse I see in the hallways on a daily basis that I wouldn't hire to represent me for a parking violation. These guys are the punch lines for lawyer jokes.
People looking for a lawyer to represent them in criminal, real estate, probate, family law or other legal matters should call the Ventura County Bar Association.
The Bar Association, which is a nonprofit organization, has an attorney referral service that charges $35 for a consultation with an attorney, according to Mr. Steve Henderson, who is the executive director of the association.
Mr. Henderson explained that a person calls the association and is asked a few questions - where do you live and what is the nature of the problem.
He said the receptionist will set up the appointment with an attorney who lives close to the person's residence and who specializes in the area of law that the caller seeks. For example, Mr. Henderson explained people might get referred to a real estate, criminal, copyright law, probate, sports or an attorney with another legal specialty, depending on what legal service that the caller needs.
The consultation is for at least 30 minutes, and if the person wants to hire the attorney to handle his legal matter, then he can do so at that time. However, there are times when the chemistry between a lawyer and a legal consumer isn't there.
"That's not uncommon," said Mr. Henderson. "It's infrequent."
Much of the time, this happens because, Mr. Henderson said, "the lawyer isn't telling them what they want to hear."
If the first consultation doesn't work, the consumer can always go back to the Ventura County Bar Association and to set up another consultation with another attorney, said Henderson.
He said there are 112 attorneys listed in the Ventura County Bar Association's lawyer referral service, and a software program ensures that the names on the list are automatically rotated so the same lawyers don't keep getting all the referrals.
Mr. Henderson said the Bar Association gets about 14 calla day from people seeking the help of the Bar Association's lawyer referral service.
He noted that the Ventura Bar Association does a follow-up survey with a legal consumer to gauge its attorney referral service and get feedback from the consumer.
Also Mr. Henderson said one of the best ways to find a lawyer is by word-of-mouth, asking friends or family who they would recommend.
For more information call the Ventura County Bar Association at 650-7599 or go to the organization's website: http://www.vcba.org
Complaints against lawyers can be made through the California Bar Association: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/FilingaComplaint.aspx