A lot of people need lawyers, but for many, finding the right one can be simultaneously confusing and overwhelming. Where to start? Where to look? What area of law am I really looking for anyway?
The State Bar of Michigan has been helping people answer those questions since 1971 with the Lawyer Referral Service, a program that helps people get the assistance they need and helps attorneys interested in adding new clients.
The process is simple: People looking for an attorney call (800) 968-0738 and pay $25 for a 25-minute consultation with a participating attorney to whom they are matched based on practice and geographic service area. Based on that consultation, the attorney and individual determine if they would like to continue working together on the case and negotiate the fees for additional service.
The problem: There are far more potential clients than panel attorneys can serve.
In the 2023 fiscal year, more than 2,600 clients who reached out to the Lawyer Referral Service could not be matched with an attorney.
The State Bar of Michigan is now actively recruiting attorneys statewide who are willing to participate in the program, which is a standout among other similar services. In 2022, the American Bar Association awarded the State Bar of Michigan the Cindy A. Raisch Award in recognition of the services it offered in response to the pandemic.
“The State Bar Lawyer Referral Service is an invaluable tool for Michigan attorneys, particularly those who are still building or expanding their practice and actively seeking new clients,” says SBM President Daniel D. Quick. “It’s a fantastic way to pair prospective clients with the attorneys they need, and for attorneys to reach the people they’re ready to serve.”
The Lawyer Referral Service is an especially valuable program for newer attorneys who are still building their client base. While the Lawyer Referral Service is not a pro bono service, some attorneys choose to participate to help support access to justice for all Michigan residents.
Robert H. Roether, a personal injury and legal malpractice attorney in Saline, has been serving as a Lawyer Referral Service panel member for about 15 years.
“It’s a great program, particularly for the public,” he said. “It’s pretty much the only place they can go to and speak to a lawyer and not get a hefty bill.”
While not every referral leads to a case, he said, “I’ve had some over the years that were significant.”
Alan D. Speck, a private practice attorney in Taylor, said the Lawyer Referral Service is usually a win-win for both client and attorney.
“The State Bar of Michigan Lawyer Referral Service provides a lot of flexibility. It allows me to open my practice to a wider geographic area,” he said. “The callers I mostly get are appreciative of the consultation. They have a good expectation for services provided. The cost of each lead compared to the benefits are pretty low risk.”
The Lawyer Referral Service is a one-stop shop for Michigan residents in need of an attorney. Call center personnel screen callers and help put them in touch with Legal Aid Services if they are not able to pay for an attorney. (The $25 fee is waived in some urgent housing, Social Security, workers’ compensation, and personal injury cases.)
Screening callers also helps ensure prospective clients are matched with attorneys who can assist them, and makes sure potential clients are willing to hire an attorney. Panel members use an online system to track referrals, and they receive an email with the caller’s name, the relevant practice area, and a brief summary of their case. The online system also provides information and tools to help attorneys manage their referrals.
Following the consultation, the attorney and the caller can choose to continue to work together on the case and, if they do, determine any additional fees.
While most people looking for help contact the State Bar of Michigan Lawyer Referral Service by telephone, requests also can be submitted online at michbar.org/lrs.
BECOMING A PANEL MEMBER
Becoming a panel member is easy and takes just three simple steps:
- Sign up at michbar.org/lrs
- Complete your profile by identifying your practice areas and judicial circuits.
- Check online or your email for referrals.
Panel members must be active attorneys in good standing, engaged in the practice of law on a full- or part-time basis, and carry professional liability insurance in an amount not less than $100,000 per occurrence and $300,000 aggregate.
The base registration fee for panel members is $150 annually and includes four practice areas and two judicial circuit designations. Additional practice areas and judicial circuits can be purchased for $25 each (or expanded to include all Michigan judicial circuits for $300). In addition to the annual fee, panel attorneys remit 10% of fees over $250 on referred cases to the Lawyer Referral Service.
The Lawyer Referral Service program is actively recruiting attorneys in all practice areas statewide. However, some practice areas are particularly underserved, including family, real property, consumer, probate, and elder law.
Attorneys willing to provide reduced cost legal services to low- to moderate-income families can opt to participate in the Modest Means panel at no additional cost. (Attorneys do not remit any portion of their fees from Modest Means referrals.) Modest Means serves families who are at or below 250% of federal poverty guidelines. It is not a pro bono program. Attorneys also have the option of designating themselves as offering limited-scope services at no additional cost.
For additional information, please visit the State Bar of Michigan Lawyer Referral Service at michbar.org/lrs or contact Panel Coordinator Monique Smith at (517) 346-6323 or email@example.com.