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October 01, 2016 Dialogue

Observations from a Newcomer to the Lawyer Referral Service Community

By Kim Bart Mullikin

Confession:  When I became the director of the Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) at the North Carolina Bar Association about a year and a half ago, I had zero knowledge about LRS programs. I had little idea what it meant to administer such a service or what made for a good LRS program. As the bar association’s new Director of Public Service and Pro Bono Activities, I needed a quick education in LRS programs, which fell under my departmental umbrella. My LRS program administrator to-do list looked like this:

Task #1:  Join the LRIS listserv (a goldmine of information and guidance).

Task #2:  Ask the ABA’s Jane Nosbisch (who will be sorely missed) a lot of ridiculously basic questions about LRS program operation.

Task #3:  Review my program’s ABA Program Assistance and Review (PAR) report, completed a year earlier (if your program hasn’t had one of these, I recommend it).

Task #4:  Register for the annual ABA LRIS Workshop.

I had one of those “baptism by fire” experiences as the NCBA’s new LRS program director. In the months before I started in the position, the LRS Committee had recommended a handful of really big LRS program changes that were approved by the Board within months of my start date:

  • The LRS program previously operated with a flat-fee annual membership charged per county enrolled and was changed to a percentage fee model with an annual membership fee charged per practice area enrolled.
  • The LRS program previously ran on software created and maintained in-house, but was slated to migrate to a new software platform (Intellinx’s InTouchOnDemand) within three months of the Board approval.
  • The LRS program previously operated on a calendar year basis, but in 2016 was moved to align with the bar association’s membership year, which runs July 1 through June 30.

Our LRS also was suffering a budget crisis. The program had run in the red for many years and—in approving all of the LRS Committee’s proposed changes—the Board expected the LRS to become revenue generating enough to self-sustain, ideally within the first year of implementation.

I was full speed ahead on LRS program development from day one, with the future of the program hanging in the balance. I had a lot to learn and a short amount of time in which to do it. This is why I am grateful for the amazing LRS community of program directors and supporters who so graciously share their guidance and advice over the LRIS Listserv, and for the opportunity to put faces to all those names as an attendee at the annual ABA LRIS Workshop.

I was a first-time attendee at the LRIS Annual Workshop this October in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From the very first session on “Nuts and Bolts” of LRS program operations through the last community roundtable discussions, the ABA LRIS Conference was extremely informative and a pleasure to attend.

The Nuts and Bolts program was my favorite part of the conference—it provided great coverage of LRIS program basics, including who does what, where, and how. I had not previously comprehended how many different LRS program structures there are in place nationwide. The LRIS conference offered an opportunity to mine great ideas from across the field, including lots of innovative program initiatives and advice from those who have “been there, done that.”

As a first-time conference attendee, I was paired with a “mentor” who served as a resource, helped to guide me through the conference programs, and connected me with others in the LRS community who run similar programs or face similar challenges. I felt immediately welcomed by this great group of professionals who are passionate about public service and experts in lawyer referral programs.

The collective experience of this group is impressive, and everyone was glad to share stories and advice. Through the LRIS conference programming I gained tips to better develop specific aspects of my LRS program, including:  staffing considerations, member development, caller/client marketing, financial support/fundraising, and improving referral quality.

Most importantly, the LRIS Conference programming reaffirmed the central tenet of LRS operation: public service. Lawyer referral services provide a critical public service by facilitating access to the legal system, and LRS program administrators nationwide are highly committed to that goal. I am grateful to be part of this community of professionals and look forward to continuing to learn from it into the future.

Kim Bart Mullikin

Director of Public Service and Pro Bono Activities, North Carolina Bar Association Foundation

Kim Bart Mullikin is the Director of Public Service and Pro Bono Activities at North Carolina Bar Association Foundation. She attended the “Nuts and Bolts” session at the 2016 ABA LRIS Workshop, along with other Workshop programming, October 4-8, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.