From the Chair...
Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service
As the deadline approaches each quarter for my Dialogue article, my hands begin to sweat, my breath becomes labored, and I begin to panic a bit as I have no idea as to what topic to write about this time. But that is when the sky opens up, a ray of light comes through, and I hear a voice from above saying: "I have some good ideas for you, John." Now, the voice always sounds suspiciously like that of George Wolff (Manager of the Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral and Information Service), but I will take advice from just about anyone at this point.
George told me that I was in a unique position to write about what executive directors worry about when they look at their LRS, and what board members want from the association's LRS. The second question is an easy one, as I have never had a board member ask me about the public service projects undertaken by our LRS, the vast number of referrals we make to social service agencies, the marketing opportunities we give to our young attorneys, or the mentoring we offer to them. Rather, it's "Why is your (note emphasis here) LRS under budget again this month?" Very few board members really look at our referral service and try to understand all of the good it does beyond providing income to the association. Whose fault is that? Well, the burden of not educating a board properly falls on the shoulders of the executive director so it's obvious I need to get busy. At a board retreat coming up in October we are going to have our LRS director, Jamie Shiverdecker, discuss the myriad of activities undertaken by our LRS in addition to attorney referrals. Your association may want to do the same thing, as the overall value of a referral service needs to be demonstrated to volunteer leadership constantly if they are going to remain supportive.
As to the first question, I find that I generally worry about what Jamie worries about, and that is everything from the budget, to how to properly advertise, to recruiting new members. A big part of the worry in recruitment is the current demographic situation in our LRS. I was amazed and also concerned to learn that 58% of our panel members are over 55 years of age. We seem to have people who have been on our service since Johnson was president—and I'm talking about Andrew Johnson, not Lyndon. Why does this worry me? Because only 22% of our panel is 40 or under, and that tells me we are not attracting new attorneys. Our panel members are aging and the total number of members on the service will likely be decreasing in the next few years. The young attorneys who should need us most are not signing up, and we need to figure out why. Is it that they don't have the funds to pay dues? That they don't have the experience to qualify for some of our panels? Or, is it that they are not joining the association at all and are thus not even aware of the LRS? I do not have answers here, but it is a subject of concern to all of us.
Advertising is another area of concern. We have tried it all over the years — Yellow Pages, radio, television, billboards, flyers, bus ads, blogs, Facebook, etc. There was a time when a large number of our calls came from the telephone book, but those days are past. Some years ago we were running ads on television that our panel members (remember they tend to be older) thought were wonderful. They would see the ads when they were home watching the 6:00 evening news and assumed that everyone had the same viewing pattern they did. But when we ran the statistics, we were spending 60% of our entire advertising budget on television and getting only 1% of our calls from those ads! Even I could figure out that our return on investment was not exactly what we wanted, and television went the way of the Yellow Pages. Today, we know that most of our calls come through referrals from other attorneys or from the Legal Aid Society, so we continually work to make our LRS visible to those referral sources. But where else should we spend marketing dollars? If you have the answer, please let us know.