By Michelle V. Harvey
The Utah State Bar is launching a new program for those who are unable to afford full price legal services but are also unable to qualify for pro bono services. The Modest Means Lawyer Referral Program will provide members of the public who fall below 300 percent of the poverty line with a referral to an attorney who is willing to provide representation at a reduced rate. The program will benefit both people who need legal representation and attorneys who can use the program to build a client base and expand their practice areas. The courts will also benefit by having fewer pro se litigants.
The Modest Means Program will have three groups of participants: clients, attorneys, and an advisory panel. Each type of participant has a set of rules for participation. This article will describe each of the three groups and what is required from those taking part in the program.
Standard attorney fees are beyond the reach of the average family and the Modest Means Program is designed to help those who fall into the gap between being able to afford standard attorney fees and qualifying for pro bono assistance. Clients who take part in the program must be below 300 percent of the poverty line. To some this may seem like a high threshold for receiving reduced cost services however, the numbers demonstrate the need for the program. In 2013, for a single person 300 percent of the poverty line would equate to a gross income of $33,510 a year, for a family of five it would be $69,150. Those who fall below this level of yearly income usually appear before the courts pro se because they cannot afford an attorney for legal matters but do not qualify for pro bono legal assistance, which requires a client to be below 125 percent of the poverty line. The Modest Means Program will make it possible for those who fall below this line to have legal representation.
The potential client must fill out a Modest Means Referral Request in order to receive a referral for an attorney. The request form asks general questions to determine if the client falls below 300 percent of the poverty line. These questions include household size, sources of income, and assets, as well as questions regarding exempt money that may be used to pay child support or spousal maintenance. The potential client is also asked about the opposing party and their counsel to prevent conflicts in the referral. The potential client must submit the request along with the $25 referral fee to the Utah State Bar Modest Means Program. Once the request has been received and approved, the Bar will contact the potential client with a referral. It is then the client’s responsibility to contact the attorney to whom they were referred.
In today’s legal market attorneys are finding it harder and harder to find work. The Modest Means Program will help attorneys who are willing to take a reduced fee find clients and broaden their client base. In order for an attorney to be a participant in the program, he or she must be in good standing with the Bar, maintain professional liability insurance, and adhere to the Modest Means Program fee structure.
The Modest Means Program’s fee structure is based on the annual income of those receiving the referrals. If the prospective client has an annual income that falls below 200 percent of the poverty line the attorney agrees to charge up to $50.00 an hour or 35 percent of their normal flat fee for a particular service. If the prospective client is below 300 percent but above 200 percent of the poverty line the attorney agrees to charge up to $75.00 an hour or 50 percent of their normal flat fee. This scale has been developed so that the attorney can determine what they believe the client can afford on an individual basis and charge accordingly.
The attorney must also fill out a registration form in order to participate in the program. The registration form asks for attorney’s contact information, bar number, malpractice insurance carrier and employer. The form also asks the attorney to state which areas of the law and areas of the state in which they are willing to take referrals. The form is turned into the Utah State Bar Modest Means Program. After the Bar staff confirms that the attorney is in good standing, their information is put into a system used to provide referrals.
THE ADVISORY PANEL
The Advisory Panel is a group of attorneys who are willing to help answer questions for those attorneys taking cases through the Modest Means Program. The attorneys on this panel must have at least seven years experience in the area of the law in which they are agreeing to give advice. Attorneys who have taken cases may contact the Modest Means Program stating that they have a question in a certain area of the law. Bar staff will then give them the contact information of one of the Advisory Panel members. The members of this panel should expect to field questions of varying magnitude and should know that it is on average a small time commitment, usually only involving a short phone call.
The members of the Advisory Panel will also have to register to be part of the Modest Means Program. Advisory attorneys must be in good standing with the Bar and must have practiced a minimum of seven years of practice in the area of the law in which they will give advice. The attorney will have to submit a registration form listing which areas of the law in which they are qualified to give advice. The registration form must be submitted to the Utah State Bar Modest Means Program and then the attorney will be put on the list of those attorneys who are willing to be contacted by attorneys taking modest means cases.
The Modest Means Program is currently looking to recruit attorneys looking to broaden their client base or those looking to mentor newer attorneys. If you would like to begin receiving referrals through the program please go to http://www.utahbar.org/modestmeans/modestmeansregistration.html and fill out the registration form. If you would like to be a member of the Advisory Panel, contact Michelle V. Harvey the Access to Justice Coordinator at the Utah State Bar by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 801.297.7049.