The Orange County Bar Association (OCBA) in Orlando, Florida was honored to receive the American Bar Association's 2019 Cindy A. Raisch Award for demonstrating superior effort in revising or restructuring an existing Modest Means Program. Prior to 2017, the program had been inactive for over seven years, but we revamped the program to serve the need in our community for affordable legal services.
The OCBA began work to revive its Modest Means Program at the beginning of 2017. The former Modest Means program was discontinued in 2010 when an insufficient number of clients came through the program given the fee structure was too high at that time. We spent a significant amount of time collecting data and recommendations from the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, consulted with our LRIS Committee and LRIS panel attorneys, and otherwise, researched other voluntary bar associations with modest means programs to construct a new fee structure that moderate-income consumers could afford. A pilot Modest Means Program was then created and launched with several LRIS attorneys who agreed to participate. The pilot program assisted clients with family, tenant, and criminal matters. When the pilot program ended in late 2017, the participating attorneys provided helpful feedback to finalize the restructuring of the program. Additional areas of law were also added.
In January of 2018, the new Modest Means Program panel was officially put in place with a new attorneys' fee structure. The fee structure operates on a sliding scale with three separate fee range categories and provides assistance to clients who make up to 325% of the Federal Poverty Level. The fee structure sets the hourly fee, retainer amounts, and flat fees the attorney can collect from the clients based on where the client falls on the scale. The attorneys who accept these cases understand that the clients are typically unable to pay large amounts of money at one time and are encouraged to establish payment plans for the clients, when appropriate.
The program is now available for family, criminal, tenant, residential foreclosure, estate planning, and bankruptcy matters. The program continues to expand and expects to offer assistance for immigration matters by the end of this year. To date, 1,143 clients have been referred to the new Modest Means Program. There are 28 attorneys currently signed up to accept these referrals. The attorneys have reported that 19% of these clients have retained their services. This is a higher retention rate than the OCBA's standard LRIS program. A Modest Means Program client reported the following on a recent customer service survey:
"The attorney gave me valuable information. His consultation was key. It helped guide me in making an informed decision. I thank the attorney and the bar association for being a valuable resource. It's nice to see someone is trying to help those who cannot afford a lawyer and level the playing field a bit. Thank you."
The new Modest Means Program would not have been implemented without the support and guidance from the LRIS Committee. We are very fortunate to have an engaged Committee, dedicated to public service and increasing access to justice. We are also grateful for our panel attorneys who have signed up to accept these referrals, and for the support from our Executive Council.