LRIS Feature

Coping with the Recession Part Two:
Five Inexpensive Outreach Approaches

In the last issue of Dialogue, I prepared an article entitled, "Coping with the Recession: How LRIS Programs are Weathering the Economic Storm," and outlined ways in which some LRIS programs have responded to the trends associated with the Great Recession. A common theme emerged from the experiences of the seven LRIS programs presented in Part One of this article: We are all working even harder to catch the attention of our target market -- the ever-shrinking middle class -- while also trying to respond to an ever-growing underclass. And, along with the increased frequency of distressed and desperate callers has come an increased demand for empathy, patience and professionalism on the part of the LRIS referral counselor.

Part Two of this article presents a few inexpensive outreach methods that can elevate the public’s awareness of your LRIS and personalize the user’s experience.  Considering the dominance of the Internet, personalizing the service and tailoring the message to the potential client have become increasingly critical. This is partly why use of social media has been so emphasized. While there are myriad inexpensive or free ways to put up content on the Internet, this article contemplates five direct service and outreach approaches:

ZOPIM Live Chat Software:

Zopim is a software company that provides the capability for "Live Chat" on your website for exceptionally modest fees.  Two responders from your LRIS program can be designated to answer messages or live questions posed from potential clients at your website, for under $15/month. (For one responder, it is only $9/month, and it is free to try!) This is a great and inexpensive way to engage your potential clients and personalize the internet user’s experience of your LRIS.  This approach creates that interaction and conversation with the user that we all hope can take place through social media, and certainly takes place every day over the phone. Other plus factors for your LRIS include:

  • LRIS is available after hours and on the weekends
  • The community learns the LRIS has information on a wealth of local agency resources which provide free legal information
  • Live Chat provides another opportunity for the LRIS to showcase its best  customer service skills

Marketing by Zip Code:

At the ABA LRIS Workshop in October 2011, Charlie Klitsch, Marion Smithberger and Joseph Satter presented a method for better targeting your marketing through demographic information of your city by zip code.  It bears repeating here.  Indeed, is an amazing resource that provides a wide variety of data about districts in a given city.  From race, age, and income bracket to marital and family status, an LRIS can examine these attributes of your city’s residents and tailor the LRIS message accordingly. With this kind of information at your fingertips, you may realize that a banner at a little league game, brochures at a laundry mat frequented by renters, or a blurb in the metro paper that is picked up and left on the commuter bus may be better and less expensive marketing efforts.  You might also realize that advertising certain niche areas of law -- such as wills and trusts in a district with a high concentration of families -- is more powerful than outreach efforts that summarize the virtues of the referral program more generally.

Radio Programs and the Press

It can’t be stated enough, so let’s say it again: Creating relationships with your local media are imperative. One arena you can start with is public radio. Is there a legal program you can underwrite? In San Francisco we underwrite a radio program called, "Your Legal Rights," that airs weekly on public radio.  The cost is about $3,500/year and we our program receives exposure every Wednesday night.  Not only does this enhance awareness of our program, but it also has allowed us to suggest program content to the show’s host.  The host is always looking for topical, interesting legal content. Recently we put together a show for businesses needing legal information about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Opportunities like this contribute news to include on your website and social media accounts, and a podcast you can post as well. Similarly, depending upon what is happening in your community, you can suggest articles for reporters or respond to articles discussing legal content, which will let readers know your LRIS is a resource they can turn to.

Get To Know Your City Council Members – And Get Them To Know Your LRIS!

City Council members and their capable aides want to refer constituents to a neutral source for legal referrals.  You can start to build relationships with your City Council members by sending them a personal letter with your LRIS’s brochure. Suggest that you meet with them in person to answer any questions they may have and hear their suggestions and ideas regarding the delivery of legal services in the community. Usually, members hold events in the community on issues of importance or when they are running for re-election. Such events are great opportunities to increase their awareness of your LRIS.

"On Call Lawyer of the Week Program"

This specific program information is from Breda Ott of the Chicago LRIS, but other programs have tried this idea out as well.  It is as simple as designating volunteer attorneys to be "on call" to answer calls that come in to your LRIS after business hours.  Watch additional calls and referrals come your way at no cost at all!

Here’s how it works in Chicago: "We schedule at least three attorneys to be on call every week in these three areas of law: Criminal Defense, Personal Injury and Domestic Relations. When a customer calls our LRIS after hours, we have an automated greeting that informs them if they need to speak with a Criminal Defense attorney to press 2. When they do that, they get another automated greeting that tells them the name and number of the Criminal Defense attorney on call that week, who they should then call. We send  the attorneys a log sheet to record all call activity at the beginning of their week on call, and they are expected to return it to us at the end of their assigned week. We then input the callers' information into our database as if we had made a referral over the telephone ourselves.

After just six months in operation, our attorneys (or at least the ones who were good about reporting the call activity they received) reported taking about 200 calls and getting nine retained cases. The attorneys seem to be very pleased to provide this service and think it is good public relations for both our program and bar association!"

LRIS programs are continually adapting to an ever-changing economic climate. Implementing one or more of these methods will create a more personalized user experience and provide a way to perform additional outreach without breaking the bank.

Carole Conn is LRIS Director of Public Service Programs at the Bar Association of San Francisco.