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LRIS' Look Back

Posted By Emily Ghant (Johnson), Tuesday, January 12, 2016
By: Celia Sunne, LRIS Board Chair

I have been a member of the LRIS board for eight years and this year I am the chairperson.  In my years as a board member I have had the opportunity to talk to other attorneys about the LRIS.  We have many attorneys who are members of our panel and receive referrals but I don't think that many know just what we do and why we do it.
The Lawyer Referral movement took place shortly after WWII.  It was a nationwide movement to help military service men returning home and needing legal assistance in many areas of law.  Henry B. Troutman, Jr. was the chair of the first Atlanta Bar public service Lawyer Referral program in 1955.   We had about 100 lawyers on the panel and made 90 referrals per month.  It was formed out of the idea of providing a needed service to a sector of the public who needed help, specifically, our returning soldiers and other military personnel. 
Since 1955 it has grown into a program that employees 4 full-time and one part-time employee who handle 40,000 calls a year.  It has developed from a service that had a $13,000 surplus in 2002 to a surplus of over $500,000.  The LRIS panel attorneys earned over 3.3 million in fees last year. 
The LRIS director,  Carla Brown , was hired in 2002 to oversee the program and in her tenure she has developed the LRIS into a highly functioning organization that serves the public by providing attorneys to people in needed areas.   The LRIS has expanded its reach through innovative business ideas, such as the Modest Means Program, which helps low income clients who do not qualify for Legal Aid and by hiring a Spanish-speaking employee to assist and help members of the Hispanic community find a lawyer.  The advent of internet marketing such as the MARTA ad campaign has allowed the number of people we serve to grow.
In 2004 we implemented a percentage fee policy.  Participating attorneys would remit back to LRIS 15% of fees earned over $500.  We grew and with the tremendous success of the Atlanta Bar LRIS program we started to look at other ways we could serve the legal community.  In 2010 the LRIS Board approved a grant program for pro bono organizations.  Each year since 2009 the LRIS has given a large portion of its surplus to various pro bono legal organizations. 
In 2015 LRIS had its best year since the inception of the percentage fee program.  We passed our success on to pro bono organizations in accordance with our mission.  This year we were pleased to award thirteen deserving organizations, such as the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, the Truancy Intervention Program, Georgia Justice Project and others, a total of $200,000. 
From its initial inception in 1955 the LRIS has existed to serve.  In sixty years it has grown in its breadth and its success has allowed the program to serve in even greater ways.  We are now able to help people who need legal help and help organizations that help people who need legal help.   
We are looking forward to another 60 years of growth and service.

Tags:  2015-2016 Fiscal Year  Atlanta Bar Association  Bar Association  LRIS 

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