Local Resources – Part 1

If you cannot afford an attorney, there are several local resources that can assist with various legal matters.

Landlord/Tenant Law

  • California Rural Legal Assistance is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to low income individuals. They are located in Santa Maria and can be reached at (805) 922-4563.
  • The Isla Vista Tenant’s Union is an organization that provides education on tenants’ rights and acts as a resource for Isla Vista residents dealing with landlord/tenant issues. Their phone number is (805) 968-6704 and they are located at 6550 Pardall Rd, Suite B.
  • The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low income individuals and seniors. They can be reached at (805) 963-6754 for Santa Barbara, (805) 922-9909 for Santa Maria, or (805) 736-6582 for Lompoc. Click here to view their website.
  • The Legal Resource Center is located in the Santa Barbara County Superior Courthouse and is funded by the Legal Aid Foundation. They provide legal services such as information, resources, referrals, support, and educational material to low income individuals. They can be reached at (805) 568-3303 for Santa Barbara, (805) 349-1289 for Santa Maria, and (805) 737-5452 for Lompoc.

Family Law

  • The Family Law Facilitators are attorneys employed by the Superior Court that can help individuals represent themselves in family law matters such as child support, spousal support, custody, visitation, and divorce. This is a free service, but the Family Law Facilitator will not represent you in court. They provide classes/education so that you may represent yourself. They may be reached at (805) 882-4660 in Santa Barbara or (805) 614-6442 in Santa Maria. Click here to view their website.
  • Every Wednesday, a volunteer attorney appears at the Goleta Valley Community Center in Goleta from 4-6pm to give free advice on family law matters as a part of Project Outreach through the Legal Aid Foundation. Clients are seen on a first come, first serve basis, for fifteen minute intervals. They recommend calling the community center before arrival to ensure an attorney will be present. Doors close at 4pm. They can be reached at (805) 967-1237 and are located at 5679 Hollister Ave.
  • The Legal Aid Foundation also offers a 30-minute consultation with a family law attorney on Tuesday mornings by appointment only for those who qualify. They can be reached at (805) 963-6754 for an initial intake.

Civil Litigation

  • Every Thursday, a volunteer attorney appears at the Westside Community Center in Santa Barbara from 3-5pm to give free advice on civil matters as a part of the Legal Aid Foundation’s Project Outreach. Clients are seen on a first come, first serve basis for fifteen minutes at a time. They recommend calling before arrival to ensure an attorney will be present. Doors close at 4 pm. They can be reached at (805) 897-2560 and are located at 423 W. Victoria St.
If you are in need of an attorney, please contact our Lawyer Referral Service by email at santabarbaralrs@gmail.com or by phone at 805-569-9400. Please keep in mind that our attorneys do not offer free legal advice and it is typical to expect average rates of $350/hr for legal services. However, some cases (personal injury, social security, workers’ compensation, etc.) may be taken on a contingent basis.

Can You Afford a Lawyer?

The Santa Barbara County Lawyer Referral Service is a free service that will connect a client with an appropriate attorney for a 30 minute consultation. However, the attorney will bill the client per any subsequent arrangements made after this initial meeting. There are a few different ways the attorney may request payment:


Hourly Fees

It is not uncommon for attorneys to charge fees of $350/hr or more. After the initial meeting, an attorney may set up a retainer agreement between the attorney or firm, and the client as a commitment to carry a case through to conclusion. This retainer fee must be paid before the attorney takes on the case. After the court has made a decision, the attorney will bill the client for time spent working on the case.



If the client wishes to sue an individual or corporation, it is possible to enter a contingency agreement with an attorney. Contingent fees are fees that are only charged if the lawsuit is successful. An attorney who agrees to contingency will take their payment as a percentage of the amount awarded. Most attorneys, however, will only accept cases on contingency if there is a high probability of success. And often, the client may be responsible for the costs incurred in connection with the case, such as expert witness fees.


Pro Bono

Pro bono publico, which means “for the public good” in Latin, refers to work undertaken voluntarily and without payment as a public service. The Santa Barbara County Lawyer Referral Service does not have any pro bono attorneys.


The method of payment is ultimately a decision the attorney discusses with the Client. Clients can typically expect to pay a retainer and hourly fees.


If you are in need of an attorney, please contact our Lawyer Referral Service by email at santabarbaralrs@gmail.com or by phone at 805-569-9400. Please keep in mind that our attorneys do not offer free legal advice and it is typical to expect average rates of $350/hr for legal services.

What To Do If You Receive An MIP

A Minor in Possession, or MIP, is a misdemeanor that can be issued whenever a person under the age of 21 possesses an alcoholic beverage in a public place.  In California, a person who is found guilty of this offense may face a fine of $250, or up to 32 hours of community service, for the first offense and a fine of $500, or up to 48 hours of community service, for subsequent offenses.  They may also have their driver’s license suspended for up to 1 year. Each subsequent underage conviction can lead to additional one-year suspensions.


If you are charged with an MIP:


1.       Speak with an attorney immediately. Remember, you have the right to remain silent during an arrest. If there is a conviction, this will become part of your criminal record.

2.       Appear for your court date. Your attorney should advise you on how to proceed.


If you are in need of an attorney, please contact our Lawyer Referral Service by email at santabarbaralrs@gmail.com or by phone at 805-569-9400.

Applying for U.S. Citizenship [Immigration, Part 1]

[This post is part one of two blogs on frequently asked immigration questions]


I am a permanent US resident – how do I apply for US citizenship?


If you have been a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least 5 years, you may be eligible to apply for naturalization.

You must meet the following requirements:
– be at least 18 years oldm

– have lived within the USCIS district with jurisdiction over your place of residence for at least 3 months prior to the application filing,

– have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months on the 5 most recent years,

– reside in the United States from the date of naturalization application until the time of naturalization,

– be able to read, write, and speak English, and have knowledge of U.S. history and government.


This worksheet from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is helpful to determine your eligibility for naturalization: Eligibility Worksheet


If you’re looking for a lawyer to help out with immigration questions, make sure to contact the Santa Barbara County Bar Association’s Legal Referral Service at (805) 569-5511.

Permanent Residence [Immigration, Part 2]

[This post is part two of two blogs on frequently asked immigration questions]

How do I apply for permanent residence based on my employment?
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the U.S. government agency that manages lawful immigration to the United States. The USCIS must approve an immigrant application (Form I-140) that is completed by your employer. Your employer must apply for a Permanent Labor Certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. The certification shows that your job will not negatively affect the job opportunities or wages of U.S. workers. Getting this certification is not impossible, but may take several months to process.
Then the State Department will give you an immigrant visa number. If you are in the United States, you can apply for permanent resident status when a visa number is available. If you are outside the United States, the local U.S. consulate will let you know when a visa number becomes available.
How do I help a relative obtain a green card/become a permanent resident?
If you are a United States citizen, you may file a permanent resident application for a spouse or children. The application form is called the I-130. If you are a citizen age 21 or older, you may also file an application for parents and siblings.
If your petition is approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), your relative must wait in line with other relatives of U.S. citizens, based on the date your petition was filed. For spouses, parents, or unmarried children under the age of 21, there is no waiting line. 
These additional links to the USCIS website may be helpful:
Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker: http://www.uscis.gov/i-140
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative: http://www.uscis.gov/i-130
If you need help applying for permanent residence, please contact the Santa Barbara Lawyer Referral Service at (805) 569-9400.

Personal Injury Cases

A personal injury means you have suffered an injury for which another person or business may be legally responsible for.


What to do after a personal injury:

1.       Seek medical attention and follow the doctor’s suggestions for recovery

2.       Keep a record of any time you have missed from work

3.       If you’re planning on filing a claim, contact the Lawyer Referral Service for help finding an experienced attorney


Common types of Personal injury:


(1) Car accidents: If you were injured in a car accident you may receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and related expenses from your insurance company, or the insurance company of the other driver, depending on who was at fault. The best way to determine who was at fault is to give the claims adjuster a clear explanation of what happened.


Some of the things the claims adjuster may review include: the accident police report, whether you sought medical attention, DUI/DWI charges that may be related to the accident, witness testimonies, photographs of the accident, and records that show the wages you lost due to the accident.


Because of this, it is important to document your injuries and take notes of anything you remember about the accident as soon as possible. You may also return to the accident scene to take pictures of anything that may be evidence, and keep records of all your injuries and their effect on your daily life.


(2) Slip and fall: A slip and fall can happen anywhere, and can lead to an injury claim against a person/entity who may have contributed to the accident. There are generally four “fall” injuries that occur: (1) trip and fall – when there is a foreign object in the pathway, (2) stump and fall – when there is an impediment in the walking surface, (3) step and fall – when there is a hole in the walking path, and (4) slip and fall – when the person slips, usually because of a slick surface.


In order to win a slip and fall case, the injured individual must prove the injury resulted from a dangerous or hazardous condition on the property, AND that the owner of the property knew of the condition and failed to correct it OR the owner did not know of the condition even though there was sufficient time for the dangerous condition to be discovered and fixed.


Additional information on slip and fall cases may be found here.


(3) Dog bites: Dog bites and other animal attacks can result in serious injury. If you have been attacked by an animal make sure you document your injuries through photographs, notes, and medical records.  Liability for animal attacks often depends on whether or not the owner of the animal knew about its propensity for violence. In many cases, the owner’s home insurance will cover liability from dog bites. However, this is not true in all cases, and a personal injury lawyer can be helpful to investigate your options further. 


Remember, if you’re looking for an experienced personal injury lawyer, please call the Lawyer Referral Service at (805) 569-5511.

What is a small estate affidavit?

A small estate affidavit can be used after a family member or spouse has passed away to speed up the process of estate resolution. If someone has passed away without a will or trust, and the estate is a small one, a small estate affidavit may come into play. An affidavit can also be used if you were named the executor of a “small estate.”


While the definition of “small estate” can vary between states, in California it means that the value of the estate is not greater than $150,000. If the estate qualifies under this definition, an inheritor can prepare a document called an affidavit, which states that he or she is entitled to a certain item of property either under a will or state law. The affidavit must be prepared at least 40 days after the passing of the family member or spouse.


The affidavit is signed under oath. When the person or institution holding the property (for example, the bank where the account was held) receives the affidavit with a copy of the death certificate, the money or property is released.


Still wondering whether you qualify under the “small estate” definition?


The following list covers the assets that are included in the $150,000 limit: bank accounts, brokerage accounts, stock, bonds, mutual funds, any other investments, real property (valued up to $50,000), and similar assets that the deceased owned in his/her name only except for:

1.  Joint tenancy assets.

2.  Trust assets.

3.  IRAs, 401K accounts, and similar pension accounts.

4.  Life insurance.

5.  Death benefits.

6.  Registered vehicles.

7.  Pay from service with the armed forces.

8.  Salary from any source not paid before date of death up to $15,000.

9.  Pay on death (POD) accounts.

10.  Accounts with a named beneficiary.


Do you need legal assistance with a will or trust issue? Please contact the Santa Barbara County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service – 805-569-9400

What is an eviction?

Sometimes landlord-tenant relations can be complicated, especially when talking about something like evictions, known legally as unlawful detainers. Here’s some general information that may provide some clarification:


In the state of California, a landlord may evict a tenant if they:

1.    Fail to pay the rent on time;

2.    Break the rental agreement and will not fix the problem (i.e. having pets when no pets are allowed);

3.    Damage property and thereby lower the property value;

4.    Disturb other tenants to the point of being a nuisance, even after being asked to stop;

5.    Use the property to do something illegal;

6.    Stay after the rental agreement is up; or

7.    If the landlord cancels the agreement and gives proper notice.


The landlord must give the tenant proper written notice. If the notice allows the tenant to correct the problem (i.e. paying back rent), the eviction may only occur if the tenant does not do what the notice asks. Otherwise, the landlord may file an unlawful detainer case when the notice period ends. Landlords must go to court and get a court order directing the tenant to move out in order to legally evict the tenant.


Even after being given written notice, a tenant still has rights. Without a court order, a landlord may not:

1.    Physically remove the tenant;

2.    Remove any of the tenant’s physical property;

3.    Lock the tenant out;

4.    Cut off the tenant’s utilities;

5.    Remove outside windows or doors; or

6.    Change locks.


Eviction process

A landlord may serve a 3, 30, 60, or 90 day notice, depending on the tenant’s situation. If the tenant does not vacate with the notice period, the landlord has the option to pursue eviction action. When a landlord serves an unlawful detainer suit, the tenant must file a response within 3 days. A trial will be scheduled within 20 days of the landlord’s request. If the landlord wins the suit, the tenant usually has 5 days to move out, depending on when the lock-out order is posted. The lock-out order allows the tenant to be locked out if their belongings have not left the premises within 5 days of posting. Further, all evictions are added to your credit report under “public records” which may make renting or buying a residence difficult.


Finding help

Landlords and tenants are not required to have a lawyer during an unlawful detainer suit However, evictions may be complicated, especially with strict court rules and forms you must file and serve. If you’re interested in getting legal help with your situation, whether you’re a landlord or tenant, give the Santa Barbara Lawyer Referral Service a call at 805-569-9400.

Should I consider Bankruptcy as an Option?

Bankruptcy can be considered a last resort to solve your money and debt problems. On the positive side though, bankruptcy can protect you and your property by stopping all collection actions by your creditors. On the other hand, it may make be difficult to get a mortgage, acquire credit, buy a car, or even get a job. Filing for bankruptcy will affect your life for the next seven years and beyond, so it is important to know your basics.


The most common forms of bankruptcy are:

1. Chapter 7 (liquidation) – to qualify, income must be less that the state’s median income. See the California Bankruptcy Means Test for additional information.

2. Chapter 13 (reorganization) – for individuals to restructure debt. May also be used by individuals who do not qualify for Chapter 7.


Before filing for bankruptcy, consider the following:


Understand the consequences on bankruptcy by reviewing this information, and consulting professional advice from someone you trust. Please contact the Santa Barbara Lawyer Referral Service (805-569-9400) to be referred to a qualified attorney.

Do the math. Determine how much you owe, your payments, what income can be devoted to these payments, and whether or not you will be able to bring in more income.

Know whether you will able to mentally and emotionally handle your debt. Consider how you will feel if you file for bankruptcy or if you can handle living with your current debts.

Consider your future. Bankruptcy can affect your job applications, home insurance, and ability to make large purchases. Would filing for bankruptcy prevent you from reaching professional or personal goals in the next 10 years?

Seek counsel. A non-profit credit counselor can help you review your financial situation and provide recommendations.

Research alternatives. See if you can borrow from a friend, look into debt management programs, or negotiate with your creditors.


If you’re still considering bankruptcy as an option, here are a four signs that bankruptcy might be your best option:

1. If it would take you more than 5 years to repay your current debts

2. If your current income cannot cover both your debt and everyday expenses

3. If you are facing legal actions by your creditors OR you want to protect certain assets from your creditors

4. If you are facing lawsuits, wage garnishments, or bank levies