|Chances are most Americans will never need extensive legal advice. Their
legal problems do not rise to the complicated level of corporations, moguls, politicians
and rock stars.
Most Americans live quietly, without dispute with their neighbors, who
also don't require legal counsel. These individuals might not even know lawyers, except
those who serve on local school boards or in other community service capacities.
If you ask these middle-class Americans if they know where to get competent legal
service, they can't answer with authority. Neither can their neighbors. They could give a
newcomer to their town references for a good dentist, doctor, veterinarian or the best dry
cleaner in the area but not a lawyer.
This is not always a good thing.
A recent American Bar Associa-tion survey found that four out of 10 legal problems in
the United States are not being addressed in our legal system. Some never get to the
system because the parties involved can solve the problem without involving the courts,
which is good.
However, many other
issues are neglected because most Americans don't know where to turn for reasonable and
competent legal advice.
In fact, help is close at hand in every community in the nation, through local and
state bar associations, which operate lawyer referral programs as a public service. In
operation for more than 50 years, lawyer referral does not give legal advice or free legal
services. It serves as a conduit for the caller to receive appropriate legal help. The
lawyers participating in lawyer referral services handle problems such as buying and
selling a home, consumer issues, credit and bankruptcy matters, employment problems,
starting a business, accidents and injury claims, or writing a will.
For those worried about the cost, the charge for the initial consultation is minimal.
The referral is free. Questions asked during the initial call enable referral intake staff
to decide whether a lawyer is really needed. Callers who do not need a lawyer may be
referred to another community or government agency for help.
If a lawyer is required, the charge for the initial consultation with the LRS lawyer
generally runs in the $20 to $30 range. After this first meeting, the client can decide
whether or not to retain the lawyer. If the lawyer is retained, the ABA strongly urges the
client to get a written fee agreement.
Callers to bar-sponsored lawyer referral services can have confidence that the lawyers
are competent. Lawyer referral programs ensure that participating lawyers are in good
standing with the state bar association and are qualified in the referred areas of
The ABA does not operate or sponsor LRS programs. It has adopted standards for programs
that operate in the public interest. Programs displaying the ABA logo meet these
standards. This is a good thing, a very good thing.
Annually more than seven million people nationally call LRS programs to locate a
Anyone seeking LRS help in California may call 415/538-2250. Elsewhere, consumers may
consult their local Yellow Pages or visit the ABA website at www.abanet.org/referral.
William G. Paul is president of the American