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Challenges for Bar Associations and LRIS

Membership in voluntary bar associations has been steadily declining. Fewer law firms financially support bar association participation by the firm’s lawyers, and lawyers are increasingly questioning the value of belonging to a bar association. Bar associations are struggling to remain relevant, both for their members and for the community at large.

The onset of the digital age and a new generation of lawyers has brought a preference for virtual communities, and more lawyers are turning to online sources for publications and CLE. Free time is limited; conducting meetings through online platforms like Skype and Zoom is seen as more efficient than taking the time to travel to an in-person meeting or event at the association.

Many state and local bar associations have lawyer referral information services (LRIS) that assist members of the public in finding an appropriate qualified private practice lawyer in the community or refer them to other resources, such as government or consumer agencies and pro bono programs to meet their legal needs. For many associations, fees generated by LRIS programs help fund other association services, such as pro bon initiatives and MCLE programs.

But according to the Lawyer Referral and Information Service Census, conducted in 2017 by American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service, on average, only 7.9% of association members participate in available lawyer referral programs. With more than 92% of members failing to take advantage of these programs, they face difficulty generating revenue.

Changes in the way consumers seek legal help in today’s online world and the entrance of for-profit companies into the lawyer referral arena present additional challenges. Companies like Legal Zoom, Avvo and Rocket Lawyer provide flat-fee legal help to consumers in an easy to understand and use online platform, which has led to a reduction in the number of calls coming to LRIS programs.

It seems clear that in order to survive, bar associations and LRIS programs need to adapt to advances in technology, while still maintaining their reputation in the community, tradition of commitment to provide resources for legal professionals, and personalized approach to lawyer referrals.

How Technology Can Help

Some LRIS programs are beginning to explore offering flat-fee legal services referral options online, in addition to their traditional call-based referral service, in order to compete with for-profit companies offering similar services. Other bar associations are using technology to facilitate direct contacts between lawyers and potential clients who increasingly search online, with many bar associations adopting an entirely online platform like that offered by frequent bar partner Legal Services Link.

Technology can also be used to help LRIS programs track what happens after the client is first referred to the attorney to determine whether an initial consultation was conducted, whether the lawyer was retained, or whether the client requires additional assistance. By developing a system that requests regular status reports from attorney members on an ongoing basis, LRIS can gauge the effectiveness of its referral system and improve collection of fees owed to the LRIS program.

Technology can also offer a value-add for bar association members by providing a mechanism for lawyers to refer to one another within the association. With a bar association database and automated referral system, when a lawyer receives a call or contact from a client outside of that lawyer’s practice area or expertise, rather than simply turning the client away, the lawyer can identify and refer the work to a qualified fellow bar member and earn a referral fee.

If your bar association would like to provide this type of value to your members, look no further than ioRefer. We can help you quickly establish an automated, intra-association referral platform (both web and app based) for your bar association, facilitating referrals between your members and helping them generate new clients and referral fees at the click of a button.  Contact us for a no hassle, online demo today!