The D.C. Bar has approved a new lawyer referral service designed to make it easier for people to get legal help at a price they can afford.
The service, announced yesterday by bar president Robert L. Weinberg, is scheduled to start Sept. 1, but bar officials said they will be ready to begin referring cases to lawyers as early as Monday. The Bar's Lawyer Referral and Information Service will offer attorneys who will work for nothing for the poor; at reduced rates for families making up to $15,000 a year, and at regular fees for People will enough money to Pay.
Weinberg said the new service should answer a complaint voiced by President Carter in a speech Thursday that lawyers fail to provide representation to most people in the country and that only those who can afford high legal fees are adequately protected by lawyers.
Historically that sometimes has been true," said Weinberg, a partner in the Washington law firm of Williams & Connoly. "The Lawyer Referral Service will assure that will not happen any more in the District of Columbia."
He said this is the first lawyer referral service in the country to meet new standards approved in February by the American Bar Association.
Under the system, people who call the D.C. Bar for legal assistance will talk either to Paul V. Charlin, a lawyer who designed the program, or an assistant, Carlin or his assistant will first decide if the caller really needs a lawyer or if the problem can be handled some other way. In simpler cases, especially those involving consumer problems, Carlin may make a phone call or write a letter to settle the problem.
If he is not able to help at once, the bar will provide names of three lawyers who have at least five years' experience in the problem area.
Some cases will also be sent to legal aid or neighborhood legal services attorneys.
Attorneys getting referrals must agree to take at least one free case a year; must have at least $100,000 in malpractice insurance; must allow the referral service to check if he or she is under any disciplinary investigation, and must provide information on fees.
he standard fee for the first half-hour consultation with a lawyer will be $15.
Most lawyer referral services in existence, including one run in Washington by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, do not screen cases to see if a lawyer is really needed. Moreover, they rarely include a way to provide legal service for the poor and the near poor, Carlin said.
All lawyers in Washington must belong to the D.C. Bar, which is running the lawyer referral service.