A legal clinic designed to bring lowcost law services to middle-income persons opened last week in Falls Church. The clinic at 129 S. Washington St. is the fourth Washington area branch to be opened recently by the legal Clinics of Cawley, Schmidt & Sharrow, a rapidly expanding Baltimore-based firm which is popularizing the notion of mass-market law.
Cawley, Schmidt & Sharrow has done away with the mahogany attorney's office and high-cost fees, and instead offers clients plain storefront offices, payment by credit card or installment plan and office hours at night and on the weekend.
Fixed low-cost fees - uncontested divorces, $250; wills, $35 - are posted on the wall, and the first meeting with the client is free.
Jim Young, a 37-year-old lawyer who has had a private practice in Herndon for the past three years, is the managing attorney for the Falls Church office. Young said the success of the legal clinic approach is evidenced in the fact that he has been seeing 10 to 20 Virginia clients each week since September, even though they have had to travel to the Silver Spring branch office. Young had been working there until Virginia offices could be found.
Young said he found the legal clinic "an exciting new idea," and it was personally appealing "because I had problems charging people $50 an hour (in my private practice) when I knew they couldn't really afford it."
Young said the legal clinics were designed by Ron Sharrow, who was a systems engineer before becoming a lawyer. By using computerized forms and having paralegals do much of the background work, the legal clinic prices can be based on a rate of $30 an hour, rather than $50.
Add to that the American Bar Association's estimate that the "middle 70 percent of our population is not being reached or served adequately by the legal profession," and it becomes obvious that legal clinic law is a very marketable product.
Young pointed out that the legal clinic is intended for the middle class, "the people who wouldn't have the money to see a lawyer and who decide to do without."
Although the clinic's business primarily will center on routine legal cases - divorces, personal injury suits and district court cases - Young said his staff is prepared to tackle "just about anything."
So far, it appears the Virginia clinic will not face the opposition other Cawley, Schmidt & Sharrow clinics have encountered. In Maryland, the state bar association challenged the clinic's television advertising, but the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Cawley, Schmidt & Sharrow.
Young said that although a Virginia Statute prohibits advertising by lawyers, the state attorney general's office has assured them it would not be enforced because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding lawyers' rights to advertise.
William T. Dowdy, president of the Fairfax County Bar Association, said the local bar does not plan to oppose the clinic.
"These clinics certainly re the coming thing . . .," he said."They can be a useful tool if they're handled properly.
"Everything is in such a state of flux with the Supreme Court ruling on advertising, the clinics won't be opposed until the state bar takes some position on these issues. As long as they conform with the canon of ethics, I don't see any problem."
Dowdy said his only concern "was that the clinic's advertising not be misleading.
"I have heard that in Maryland an uncontested divorce was advertised for $200 or $250," he said. "There's really no such thing as a truly uncontested divorce. Once the people got in the office, the $200 went out the window. We certainly wouldn't want that in Virginia."