Spotlight on Lawyer Referral and Information Service: Serving the Community for Nearly 75 Years
The initial areas of law represented by the fledgling referral service reflected the economic and political climate of the late 1930s and early 1940s, as requests were made in accounting, bankruptcy, building and loan association, federal administrative law, receiverships, stockbrokerage law, and veterans’ matters, among others.
Today, at a time when more and more members of the public seek help with their legal problems, LRIS has become an invaluable part of the legal and lay community.
“LRIS is an outstanding public service as well as a great business-building resource to attorneys,” says LRIS Director Seth Chavez. “Not only do we help members of the public find attorneys who have been vetted in an unbiased way, but we also help attorneys by being a resource for prescreened and legitimate cases and clients.”
Last year alone, LRIS made more than 20,000 referrals to panel attorneys, generated more than $8 million in fees for participating panel members, and provided assistance to more than 100,000 individuals and businesses. (During its first full year of operation in 1938, the referral service made 206 referrals.)
Although the service has undergone a number of refinements over the years, LRIS today maintains a roster of more than 500 panel attorneys in 23 subject-matter areas (162 subpanels) who meet rigorous qualification standards. Consumers and businesses alike can use the referral service to find a qualified attorney to help them obtain expert solutions for their legal problems.
Attorneys also can use the service to refer clients to other attorneys because of a potential conflict of interest, the requisite legal assistance is outside their realm of expertise, or the specific case is not of the type the firm accepts.
LRIS members are private attorneys who charge their regular rates (the first half-hour of consultation is free). Annual dues for LACBA members who join the referral service are $300 ($500 for non-LACBA members), which includes two panels ($50 extra for each panel thereafter). Panelists also pay a portion of fees collected on referred cases to support administration of the nonprofit service.
California State Bar members in good standing who have an office in Los Angeles County, professional liability insurance, and a certain level of experience in a particular practice area may join LRIS.
How it works. By using the Referral Line at (213) 243-1525, callers can speak with a trained bilingual (English and Spanish) representative who screens the individual and determines whether the problem is appropriate for referral.
Clients receive referrals to an attorney—many of whom are bilingual—based on the attorney’s areas of expertise, geographic location, and other specifics related to the individual need. If the initial referral is not a good fit, the caller may request up to two additional referrals at no additional charge. Included in the service is one-half hour of complimentary consultation with each attorney who receives the referral. Attorneys requesting referrals to other attorneys are offered a free half-hour consultation with each attorney to whom they are referred, up to three times per matter.
After a case is completed, LRIS surveys all clients about their experience to obtain meaningful feedback on their perceptions of the legal system and the particular attorneys to whom they were referred.
The public also can access the LRIS Web page at www.smartlaw.org, which offers an interactive Web-based referral service that operates in tandem with the call center.
As its name indicates, LRIS also offers a robust “information” component that encompasses legal and consumer information for those who do not have a problem that requires legal representation and those who require pro bono legal services. Callers can dial the SmartLaw Information Line at (213) 243-1500, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is free of charge to the public. In addition to the nearly 200 prerecorded legal and consumer information messages, callers to the Information Line can hear special messages that list pro bono and low-cost legal services available throughout the county.
In 2006, the SmartLaw message library became available in Spanish, thanks to a new state-of-the-art telephone system and a breakthrough on licensing issues. The entire SmartLaw message library is also available at www.smartlaw.org, where visitors not only can listen to the messages but also can read and/or download them in their entirety.
Today’s LRIS also administers the Dependency Court Project for the Juvenile Court, providing tort attorneys with special expertise to represent children who have been abused and/or injured while wards of the court.
LRIS Director Seth Chavez supervises a full-time staff and works closely with the LRIS Advisory Committee to guide the service and assure its professionalism, competency, and sound administration. The advisory committee, composed of LACBA members, has standing subcommittees in the areas of qualifications, finance, peer review, and recruitment.
“LRIS has a long history of public service in Southern California and has moved with changing technology and shifts in public needs for legal services and information,” says Chavez. “Our approach to serving the public is balanced with the needs of LRIS member attorneys who are a critical element of the service we provide to the public.”
LRIS is certified by the State Bar of California, signifying its compliance with the Minimum Standards for a Lawyer Referral Service in California, and the American Bar Association.