The BBA works hard to make sure that it offers relevant, high-quality resources to those who need them – not just to its members, but also to people in the community who are seeking legal assistance. As we know from the recent report of the BBA’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, there is an enormous unmet need for legal aid in this state. The BBA recognizes that the increasing number of pro se litigants imposes significant burdens on our courts, and affects the ability of our judges to deliver justice. The BBA is committed to ensuring access to justice for everyone who comes before our courts, and including by assisting unrepresented litigants find lawyers.
With this in mind, I recently paid a visit to the BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). The LRS is the BBA’s largest public service to members of the community, and is entirely staffed and supervised by the BBA. In a nutshell, the LRS operates a help line to match prospective clients with participating attorneys. Individuals seeking legal assistance can contact the LRS by telephone or through an online form to receive a referral to an appropriate attorney, legal services organization, or government agency.
Almost 300 attorneys are currently registered with the LRS, covering nearly 350 areas of the law. In order to ensure that its referrals are of a high quality, the BBA requires that participating attorneys meet certain requirements, including, in some subject matters that are more complex, a minimum number of years of experience. Attorneys may charge their usual rates and remit a portion to the BBA. Attorneys also have the option to make themselves available for reduced-fee cases, by which moderate to low-income clients are charged a maximum of $85/hour. These reduced fee referrals are a huge help in allowing individuals who may not be able to receive civil legal aid but cannot pay market rates for attorneys’ fees.
For even more perspective, let me highlight a few key facts about the LRS.
Quick Stats about the LRS:
- The LRS received over 8,000 inquiries from prospective clients seeking representation in the past year.
- Of those, 1,205 contacts came from online referral requests – more than 20% higher than the prior year.
- Over the past year, 39% of LRS callers have been eligible for the reduced-fee panel, which has allowed the LRS to connect those unable to pay traditional fees for legal assistance to an affordable solution.
- 60% of the attorneys who participate in the LRS also participate in the reduced-fee panel.
The Bigger Picture: Responding to Community Needs
As you can see, the LRS does incredible work on a daily basis. The service is personal and tailored to each client’s legal needs, and involves much more than just pulling names from a list. It truly has the capacity to change people’s lives every day.
But the LRS also has the ability to respond to the shifting needs of an evolving community, even in emergency situations. This flexibility allows it to be an even greater service to the community. For example, the LRS’s close connections to the legal community and its solid infrastructure allowed the BBA to establish the Marathon Assistance Project shortly after the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon. Through this project, more than 80 individuals and small businesses have received much-needed legal assistance in the aftermath of this tragedy. The LRS continues to offer assistance to these victims as their legal needs evolve.
More recently, the Military Legal Help Line was transferred over to the LRS. They have been able to expand the line and draw from a full panel of attorneys dedicated to assisting military personnel, veterans, and family members with their unique legal needs. As a result, the LRS has been able to connect 161% more members of this population with legal assistance than in the prior year. In even more exciting news, you may have seen earlier this week that four law firms have signed on to accept pro bono referrals through the Military Legal Help Line for clients who do not qualify for traditional free legal services, but cannot afford the fees of a lawyer. These partnerships will significantly improve our ability to assist this portion of the population.
With this kind of proactive approach, the potential of the LRS is unlimited. We are looking forward to exploring new ways that this valuable service to the community can grow and develop even more as the community itself continues to change.