From the Chair...

Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service

Last month, I updated those in attendance at the LRIS Workshop in Las Vegas on what the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Services is doing for our lawyer referral services. The Following is a digest of that update.

This past June, we convened a "Lawyer Referral Leadership Forum" in Chicago. For one full day, leaders from LRIS programs around the country came together to discuss issues and concerns relevant to the community. The diverse topics included discussion about the market "fit" and how effective we are in meeting the needs of our two constituent groups—the public and the legal community; what is necessary to increase access to justice and raise public awareness of lawyer referral services for persons of moderate income; and what can be done to overcome other barriers and challenges in growing our panel members, clients and community. Portland State University Marketing Professor Maureen O'Connor explored some effective ways to educate consumers about the benefits of lawyer referral. The end result of this forum was the creation of four task forces that have moved forward to work on projects of concern to the lawyer referral community. I'd like to now tell you a bit about each of these task forces and their members.

The first is the Task Force on the ABA Online Presence. The purpose of this group is twofold: 1) the group will monitor the emerging issue of a public-facing ABA member directory, develop a position relative to this issue, and assist the ABA LRIS Committee in coordinating a strategic response to this issue; and, 2) the group will facilitate development of an integrated intake system between the ABA and the public service bar association-based lawyer referral network. The process will rely on an online tool for electronic collection of relevant information from a person seeking legal help, and then route that data to a local bar-sponsored lawyer referral service for appropriate case screening and referral. This system would need to have revenue potential for the ABA in order to be feasible. The members of the ABA Online Presence Task Force are: Al Charne, Seth Chavez, Lisa Reep, Marion Smithberger and Carrie Witt.

Next is the Task Force on CLE Education for LRIS Panel Members. The purpose of this group is to develop a CLE curriculum geared towards educating primarily solo and small firm practitioners populating LRIS panels about the technological innovations that will improve their capacity to operate efficiently, as well as to provide content focused on best practices for LRIS membership. In coordination with the ABA CLE department and other relevant ABA entities, the curriculum will be marketed via LRIS public service programs across the country to LRIS panel attorneys. The members of this task force are: Brant Bittner, Carla Brown, Bill Ferreira and Rodney Low.

Third is the Task Force on LRIS Screening Practices. The purpose of this group is to develop best practices, guides and other tools to assist front-line call center specialists in providing effective "high-touch" screening services. The group will develop uniform national templates by harvesting national best practices and standards for operation of public service LRIS programs. Members of the Task Force on LRIS Screening Practices are: Brant Bittner, Michelle Chavez, Brenda Ott, Pat Ruppert, Amy Seefeld and Susan Sowards.
Finally, the Leadership Forum created the Task Force on LRIS Brand Development. The purpose of this group is to consider how to better brand the national collaborative public service LRIS network. The group will focus on what the consistent message(s) should be and how they can be delivered, and who are our best partners in delivering the message(s). Members of the Task Force on LRIS Brand Development are: Carol Conn, Roseanne Hiebert, Charles Klitsch, Jeannie Rollo, Joseph Satter, Britt Wegner, George Wolff and Maureen O'Connor (ex officio).

We have another exciting new project that we are planning to undertake that will help consumers to more effectively locate legal help through a local lawyer referral service program. For those of you who attended last year's workshop in New Orleans, you may remember the presentation from Ken Matejka of LegalPPC, who has developed a demo app for iPhone that will allow a user, though the use of GPS and a database, to quickly locate the nearest lawyer referral service. Ken has agreed to develop this app, with distribution by the ABA, at no cost to us. We have recently put forward a memo to the ABA Board of Governors seeking approval of this venture, and we expect a response after the Board's early November meeting. We are very grateful for Ken's willingness to help support the lawyer referral community by donating his time and talent for this project, and we look forward to being able to get this out widely to the public.

Since its creation, the Task Force on ABA Online Presence has been busy. One of the immediate projects being undertaken by this group is to shift the intake system for the Department of Labor Project away from a telephone-based system to an online system. As most of you know, the ABA manages the partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which directs potentially meritorious FLSA and FMLA claimants to their local lawyer referral programs for representation when the DOL is unable to directly pursue the claim itself. Currently, the DOL directs the claimant to call a toll-free number that walks the caller through a process that results in connecting that person to the appropriate LRS. Though we have had some success with this program, more work needs to be done. What we clearly understand, however, is that the cost of maintaining the telephone line is a financial burden, and the same function can be handled online at a fraction of the cost. So, this Task Force is exploring how to replace the telephone intake system with an online system that will accomplish the same goals. It has identified a model program, currently being used successfully by the ABA Military Pro Bono Project, to handle the intake and referral functions, and discussions are under way with that project's vendor to utilize the same model for the DOL Project. We hope to have a firm idea of the precise costs and functionality very soon.

Along the same lines as the DOL Project intake system, we are also looking at developing a parallel system, built on the same software platform that will act as a one-stop national intake point for consumers seeking referral to a lawyer. This single, national site, hosted by the ABA, will be designed to direct consumers seeking a lawyer to the appropriate local lawyer referral system. Having a national-level site with the ABA brand and marketing behind it will be a strong competitor against other national for-profit "lawyer referral services," and we trust it will be another effective way to bring new clients to your offices and raise awareness of the value of public service lawyer referral services.

This year, the Standing Committee on LRIS has also been working with the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAP) to place a rotating banner ad containing four messages on its website. The goal is to educate EAP providers about the availability of lawyer referral to assist their clients in resolving legal problems.

With all of this positive news, I want to also make sure you are aware of some not-so-positive news. As many of you know, the ABA leadership continues to look at allowing other ABA entities to create online, public-facing directories of their lawyers, such as the Section of Family Law. The ABA LRIS Committee has vigorously opposed this proposal, but our arguments have not yet carried the day. The ABA has long championed local public service lawyer referral services and adopted ABA policy urging that those systems verify that all participating lawyers are licensed, in good standing, and carry malpractice insurance. The Standing Committee on LRIS believes that by offering a publicly-accessible directory of ABA members that does not include those safeguards; the ABA would act in a manner inconsistent with its own policy adopted to assure protection of consumers. Further, the ABA's proposal has potentially significant, long-term fiscal implications for state and local bar associations and their lawyer referral services. We will continue working on this issue and do all we can to reach a solution that supports public service-oriented lawyer referral services and all of their programs.

I hope this brings all of you up to date on our work, but please contact me if I can answer questions for you or if you have comments or suggestions for me.