In 2014, two programs received the ABA’s Cindy A. Raisch Award for innovation in a lawyer referral service program. In each, partnerships were formed and new programs developed to create greater access for those in need of critical legal information and representation.
Cindy A. Raisch, in whose name the award was founded, was a dynamic, inspirational leader in the LRS community dating back to 1984, when she began serving as the directing attorney at the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service. She later became Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral Service where among her many accomplishments, she is credited with innovating the philosophy for LRS programs as the "business of public service", now our collective mantra some 25 years later. In 1994, Cindy died of cancer at age 37, far too young to realize her full promise which our community seeks to carry forward.
Here is a bit about each of the 2014 Cindy A. Raisch award winners:
Washington County Bar Association Pro Bono Limited Representation Custody Program
The Washington County Bar Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania "Pro Bono Limited Representation Custody Program" was established to assist family law legal aid income–eligible clients and those eligible for WCBA's Modest Means Program. Under this Limited Representation program, a client receives a pro bono attorney from the time of filing up through the pre–custody conciliation meeting. If no agreement is reached at that meeting, the attorney is permitted by the court to withdraw from the case. A Limited Representation program subcommittee was created by the Pro Bono and Lawyer Referral Services Committee to develop program guidelines, as well as forms and agreements for attorneys to use with their clients. They drafted a new local rule, approved by the Court, permitting an attorney to provide limited representation. The program is "low bono" in that it provides attorneys with a $175 stipend upon withdrawal from the case. Stipends are paid through the 501(c)(3) charitable Washington County Bar Foundation.
Since the program was launched in October 2013 over 160 clients have been referred to the program.
The SF–Marin Lawyer Referral & Information Service’s ADA Compliance & Education Program
The San Francisco–Marin Lawyer Referral and Information Service’s American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance and Education Program was created three years ago at the height of a crisis affecting small business owners in San Francisco. Business locations inaccessible to persons in wheelchairs, or with other physically limiting conditions, were being sued or threatened with a lawsuit at an alarming rate. Barriers to access including, a front door step, a doorway too narrow, a restroom that was not wheelchair accessible, were generating notices of accessibility violations, followed by demand letters, and eventually lawsuits. The mom and pop store owners in receipt of these legal communications often did not speak English and even if they did, would find it too difficult to navigate the necessary legal and building code information to remedy the access issues causing the lawsuits.
In collaboration with city supervisors and the San Francisco Office of Small Business, the SF–Marin LRIS developed workshops about the ADA which were first held for merchants in neighborhoods throughout the city, but then grew into legal presentations at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Business Week, Legal Services for Entrepreneurs, town halls and the hour–long "Your Legal Rights" radio program that reaches an estimated 20,000 Bay Area listeners. To ready the attorney resources for such an effort a legal training was arranged for LRIS business and real estate panel attorneys who were representing commercial tenants and landlords, and panel application standards were developed.
The program has helped many in the business community gain footing in an arena where they had no understanding of how to best manage legal, financial and architectural environment. Since inception of the program, over 100 small businesses have received legal information and assistance through referrals to qualified ADA Compliance attorneys and through legal workshops and presentations.
Both Washington and San Francisco County programs have served to enrich the public service mission under which they were formed, increased awareness of their programs within the communities they serve and expanded access to lawyers for a target population unable to cope with a particular legal need. In so doing, the relevance and power of what lawyer referral programs can offer their communities continues and the "business of public service" carries on.