This month, the Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) officially turns 70 years old.
The dynamic growth and changes to the program over the last seven decades are a reflection of trends and changes in law, society, communications and demographics. From the days of handwritten intakes, membership information on index cards and Yellow Page advertising to “in the cloud” database and phone technology, live web chat, and Google ad campaigns, our State Bar of California-certified LRIS is evolving to efficiently match people seeking legal assistance with experienced panel attorneys.
The one constant is that LRIS remains The Bar Association of San Francisco’s oldest and largest public service program, committed to providing access to legal education and affordable, competent legal representation for the public, and benefits and services to attorneys and the courts.
In its inception in 1946, the “Lawyer Reference Service” was formed to assist returning World War II veterans, but quickly began helping any person in need of legal assistance.
This commitment to providing legal services to all groups continues to shape the program today, and since 1973, has included the provision of highly-qualified attorneys for appointment by the criminal, juvenile and family courts to indigent adults and children. Today, LRIS not only qualifies attorneys for the court programs through a rigorous application process that includes peer reference reviews, but also calendars up to 15 of these same attorneys each day to appear in the courts and annually processes more than 10,000 attorney, investigator and expert bills for the work done.
Today, LRIS has veterans’ legal services programs, immigration programs, a low-income legal services for seniors program, a business law center and specialty referrals for the legal needs of the merchant community, persons with disabilities and the catastrophically injured.
In 2014, LRIS expanded it services to Marin County, to provide for the legal needs of that community in the absence of a local, certified lawyer referral service.
At the core of LRIS’s information and referral operations is a multi-lingual staff of eight highly-trained legal interviewers, who carefully screen each call and online request.
This year, approximately 50,000 people will contact the service and 10,000 or so will be referred to attorneys in more than 100 areas of practice. Approximately 10% will meet income eligibility requirements for the LRIS Low-Fee Program to be referred to lawyers who have agreed to substantially reduce their hourly rates.
The public service nature of the program also includes screening for pro bono clients for the Justice & Diversity Center, its Homeless Advocacy Project and the Veterans Legal Resource Hub (V-Hub); calendaring “Attorneys of the Day” in immigration court; and administering the Attorney-to-Attorney Advice Program; and Lawyer on Call program, when clients need brief advice.
Moving forward into the next 70 years, LRIS expects to stay robust and responsive to the changes that will come with the future of law, but one thing is known for sure – for whatever legal need occurring in our communities, we’ll be there.