Finding the right lawyer can be a daunting task for many people. Not knowing what to do or even where to begin in the search for an attorney often presents a confusing and stressful situation.
That feeling of uncertainty was exactly what one of Jeffrey N. Catalano's clients experienced before she reached out to the Massachusetts Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service (LRS) in July 2009. Before calling LRS she didn't know any attorneys or even who to reach out to.
The client, a young mother who gave birth to a child with severe disabilities, was referred to Catalano, a partner at Todd & Weld LLP, who specializes in medical malpractice cases. After a few years in the litigation process, Catalano's client received a record-setting $10 million arbitration award this past fall. What began as an overwhelming situation for the client's family was eased by a simple phone call to LRS. The final outcome was beyond what the family could have ever imagined.
"My client was very thankful that she had a reputable source to go to for a referral. The family wanted some assurance that whomever they were getting for a lawyer had requisite qualifications," said Catalano, who also serves as MBA treasurer. "Part of the MBA's mission is to serve the interests of the citizens of the commonwealth. In this case, the MBA's LRS helped to alleviate the tremendous financial and emotional burdens suffered by a terrific family."
Answering the call for 40-plus years
LRS has served as a trusted starting point for those in need of a lawyer for more than 40 years. Created in 1974, LRS is a free referral service that connects people with MBA member attorneys in a specific geographic location based on law practice area.
The service can be reached Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling (617) 654-0400 or toll-free at (866) MASS-LRS. Requests can also be made online any time at www.MassLawHelp.com, which also includes a helpful list of answers to frequently asked questions, such as: When do I need a lawyer? How can a lawyer help me? How do I find the right lawyer?
When calls come in they are initially screened as the caller describes their situation. With the assistance of MBA staff, the area of law is determined and an attorney who practices that type of law is identified based on a ZIP code provided by the caller. Attorneys can choose to have calls transferred directly to their office and can opt in to receive an email once a referral is made to them. The caller can also choose to receive an email containing all the necessary referral contact information.
Online users fill out a request form and are contacted by LRS the next business day. In 2014, LRS received nearly 23,000 calls and more than 1,500 emails. While there is no cost to use LRS, referrals are made to fee-charging attorneys.
Member benefit for attorneys
In order for an attorney to join LRS and start receiving referrals, they have to be an MBA member, be in good standing with the Board of Bar Overseers and carry professional liability insurance. There is a minimal fee for MBA members to join LRS in addition to their normal membership dues.
"As a lawyer it's nice to have another source of referrals. It costs very little money and pays tremendous dividends," said Catalano, who has subscribed to LRS for more than 10 years. Several other cases that also led to settlements have come to Catalano through LRS.
MBA members from across the state use LRS as an additional referral source. These attorneys range from solo practitioners to lawyers at large firms. When lawyers join LRS they choose what areas of law they want to be listed under: family, labor and employment, estate planning, real estate, consumer protection, personal injury, criminal, personal finance, business, individual rights, government benefits and services, and immigration.
From a caller's viewpoint, there's a certain comfort level that these attorneys have all been vetted by the MBA. This is a much more reliable way of finding an attorney than conducting a blind search on the Internet without the necessary background information.
"The lawyers who are a part of the MBA are people who understand the importance of their role," said Catalano. "Someone who's calling the MBA is going to be assigned to or given the name of an MBA lawyer who's dedicated to the profession, dedicated to justice and dedicated to getting a good result for their client."
The MBA handles all the marketing and promotion of the service as a member benefit. In addition to advertising on the MBTA and on WBZ radio, LRS is also promoted as a referral source during the MBA's monthly Dial-A-Lawyer program, which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month.
An additional member benefit of LRS is that attorneys can now access referral information online whenever they need it. LRS uses Intellix, a cloud-based management system, which allows participating attorneys to go online and update their cases, renew their LRS membership, put temporary holds on referral notices and pay remittance fees.
A sympathetic ear
The MBA is uniquely positioned to help people when they call LRS because of its available resources. Staff members answering the phones understand the legal realm and can often sympathize with the plight of a caller. A key first step in the referral process is simply serving as a sympathetic ear on the other end of the phone.
"When people are calling the Mass. Bar Association, they're calling someone who understands what they've gone through. They're not just calling some 1-800 number where the person on the other end of the line doesn't have the sensitivity to appreciate what someone's dealing with," said Catalano.
Depending on the situation, the MBA staff members answering the phones are also able to provide supplemental resources to callers in addition to providing a referral. Some instances may require the caller to also get in touch with agencies, such as the Attorney General's Office, their local police department or mayor's office, or the Better Business Bureau.
"We help people find some order in the chaos that's going on when they have a legal issue," said Joseph Caci, LRS/public and community marketing manager at the MBA.
Also available to LRS callers is a language line so calls can be taken in virtually any language. The MBA provides a bilingual staff member to assist with Spanish speaking callers.
Everyone's referral service
Whether someone is filing for bankruptcy, going through a divorce, buying a house, adopting a child or going through any other type of legal situation, LRS is a free service that's applicable to everyone. When someone needs a lawyer, contacting LRS is an easy and reassuring first step.
Although cases with high-level settlements such as the one involving Catalano's client are rare, LRS serves a vital function for the everyday situations that arise in people's lives.
"These are life events for people and we fill a void of being able to match a person with an attorney they need," said Elizabeth O'Neil, director of community and public services at the MBA. "Through LRS we are able to provide a great public service to the entire commonwealth."