California Bar Journal
CBJ - April 2009 #03.
Help for working poor clients
California Bar Journal April 2009 Help for working poor clientsThe go-to legal source for thousands of poor people who have lost their homes or jobs - or both - in these convulsive economic times has been legal aid, and the lawyers who advocate for them have their hands more than full. But local bar associations around the state also offer a little-known program that is helping Californians who do not qualify for legal aid but cannot afford to pay an attorney's regular rates.
The programs go by a variety of names: Modest Means, Middle Income, Moderate Means, Low-Fee. Most attorneys who meet the qualifications for a bar association's Legal Referral Service (LRS) are looking for clients to pay a normal hourly rate, often more than $200 to $400 an hour. But some also join the modest means programs and agree to charge lower rates.
"It helps a group of people in the community who often don't have adequate access to legal help because of cost, and are often ignored," says Joan Saupé, Moderate Means Committee chair for the Contra Costa County Bar Association. "Many moderate means people cannot afford a $300 an hour-plus attorney, nor do they have the savings for a retainer. These are working people without a lot left after the bills are paid."
The Santa Clara County Bar Association's Modest Means Program started in 1990 "because there was a gap between who could use the Lawyer Referral Service and hire attorneys at regular rates and people who qualified for pro bono work," says Executive Director Chris Burdick. "It's been very successful ... I think it's a critical component of the whole range of public services we offer."
The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) Low Fee Referral Program has been in place since the 1970s. "We've always seen a need, although it's greater now," says Carol Woods, director of BASF's Lawyer Referral Service. "We are seeing more people who are facing foreclosure and facing job losses."
The Santa Clara County Bar Association (SCCBA) advertises the Modest Means program in all its LRS literature and it is offered as a possibility when people call the service. Burdick says calls to Santa Clara's LRSs are up by 300 percent, but she attributes that to an aggressive ad campaign, not the current economy.
The Los Angeles...