Meet David Erb. David is a family law attorney and a partner at Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP, and a board member of the Contra Costa County Bar Association in the San Francisco Bay area. But his journey may surprise you.
Equipped with a law degree and a bar card, David chose to take the daunting step of hanging up his shingle right out of law school. But something was missing. David had no legal experience and no book of business. That’s when David reached out to his local bar association. Through the association’s lawyer referral service, he discovered the Moderate Means program, and it changed the course of his career.
What is a Moderate Means Program?
Many state and local bar associations throughout the country have a Moderate Means program, typically offered as part of the association’s lawyer referral service (a list of local and state bar associations with lawyer referral services is on the ABA website). The primary purpose of these programs is to help moderate-income individuals and families find the legal assistance they need, while also providing young or new lawyers with paying clients, training, and mentorship to build their practices. The programs identify applicants who qualify based on income, and refer them to young or new attorneys who agree to accept these cases at a reduced rate, while usually receiving some training and guidance from the bar associations and/or more experienced attorneys. These cases most often involve issues relating to family, immigration, housing, or elder law. The intent is that once a young or new lawyer has taken a certain number of Moderate Means cases, they gain the experience to get referrals of clients who can afford to pay full rates.
What Should a Young Lawyer Expect from the Program?
First, expect to be needed. Numerous individuals and families who might otherwise represent themselves or forego needed legal assistance altogether apply for Moderate Means programs. You may not feel like you know much at first, but judicial officers and other professionals with whom you work, not to mention your clients, recognize the value of a Moderate Means attorney to the judicial system and society. It is a win-win.
Second, expect to be supported. Every bar association has its own approach, but Moderate Means programs may offer MCLE programs, mentoring and the support of judicial officers and other attorneys who recognize you are in the process of professional development.
Third, expect open doors. When it came time for David to make a change in his career and apply for an associate attorney position at his current firm, in addition to a job offer, he was also given an important insight into the firm’s decision to extend the offer. He was told that what set him apart from other applicants was his practical legal experience, which he obtained primarily through the Moderate Means program.
Whether you are hanging up your shingle right out of law school, like David did, shifting or expanding your practice, or simply giving back to your community, contact your local bar association about its Moderate Means program. Your journey may surprise you, too.
About the Author
Joseph M. Miller is an associate with Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, PLC in Cedar Rapids, IA, focusing on health law and business law matters. Joseph currently serves as an ABA YLD Liaison and acknowledges the contributions to this article by Jennifer L. Cree, chair of the YLD Law Practice Committee, and Stephen S. Steinberg, chair of the Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Service. Contact Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org.