Lawyers Journal

ABA conducts review of MBA referral service

For most people, August usually is a time for vacations, relaxation and lots of sun and fun. Not so at the MBA’s Lawyers Referral Service (LRS). During July and August, the LRS staff was busy organizing a visit from two American Bar Association Program of Assistance and Review (PAR) consultants.

PAR consultants provide assistance to bar associations’ referral service programs through site visits. They have experience in overseeing and developing lawyer referral programs and are well versed in the many issues facing these programs. Their insight and expertise give them the ability to review each unique program individually and offer credible suggestions for concrete results.

The MBA’s LRS program has been in existence since 1974. The LRS staff answers more than 50,000 calls a year and makes more than 25,000 referrals to its panel membership.
The MBA requested that the ABA send two PAR consultants to observe the operation of the LRS and suggest ways to improve the program for both members and the general public. According to Elizabeth O’Neil, director of public services, “While the current LRS program is one of the best programs in the country, we are always looking for ways to improve and expand the program. Having experts from outside Massachusetts evaluate our program makes sense, so that we can take the program to the next level.”

Before arriving at the MBA, each consultant was given samples of items that the LRS use on a daily basis, including letterhead, brochures, applications, LRS Statement of Standards and Rules, marketing tools, etc. They also received a completed 13-page questionnaire that outlined all financial, statistical, economic, operational, marketing and technology aspects of the service.

The review was conducted on Aug. 14 by PAR consultants Audrey Osterlitz and Lish Whitson.

Osterlitz is coordinator of the New York State Bar Association Lawyer Referral and Information Service and has served as PAR consultant since 1987. She also is a regular speaker at the ABA Annual LRIS Workshop and at state bar-sponsored regional workshops.

Whitson is a partner at the law firm of Helsell, Fetterman, Martin,Todd & Holanson in Seattle, Washington. He is a member and past chair of the (Seattle) King County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service. He has been a consultant with the ABA’s PAR program sine 1991 and is co-author of the ABA’s Model Lawyer Referral Rules and Legislation.

The pair spent the morning meeting with Executive Director Abigail Shaine, Elizabeth O’Neil, director of public services; Alissa Breitstein, coordinator of LRS; and Kristen Locke, senior director of professional operations. A luncheon discussion followed that was attended by past president Carol A.G. DiMento; Richard C. Van Nostrand, president-elect; Mark D. Mason, secretary; Kerry P. Choi, LRS Committee chair; and LRS Committee members Patrick T. Clendenen and Marc C. Laredo.

In their initial appraisal, the ABA’s consultants said they were impressed with the MBA’s program and with the many changes made since the last PAR visit in 1989. Prior to that, part-time law students staffed the LRS telephones and all referrals were made using a card index file broken down by subject matter and geography. Currently, the LRS program has five full-time phone representatives, a custom-developed referral computer database system and an automatic call-distribution phone system. All of these changes were in part due to the recommendations of the PAR consultants in 1989.

The MBA is now awaiting a written report from the PAR team. The report will be distributed to the officers, the LRS Committee and staff.

Editor’s note: If you are interested in joining the LRS, you can email or call (617) 338-0564

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