County Offers Help With Lawyer Referral

March 01, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Carroll's bar association won't need to beg for help with its lawyerreferral service if the library won't run it.

When the library trustees tabled a motion to run the service, the county Department of Citizen Services called county attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson and offered to fill in the gap.

"The library could do a fabulous job, but we thought we'd let Mr.Thompson know they had a back-up if they need it," said Joleen Sullivan, director of citizens services. "We have a person on staff who isa paralegal with Legal Aid in Frederick, but I haven't had a chance to talk to them yet."

The service, which could clear $5,000 per year, would collect a $50 application fee and list of specialties from lawyers approved by the county bar association lawyer referral committee.

Citizens could then call the service number, describe the nature of their problem and receive the name of a specialty lawyer from the top of a rotating list. The lawyer would give the patron a free half-hour consultation and a $25 fee would go to the service.

"The object of lawyer referral is to guarantee the public as a whole can be certain of getting a competent attorney experienced in handling their problem," said attorney Bryan T McIntire Jr.

The state bar association discontinued its lawyer referral service when individual counties found the practice lucrative.

"Since I'm the county association president, the calls have been referred to me," Thompson said. "I've gotten three to five calls a day and was surprised at the number of people who want a lawyer and don't know where to turn."

Library trustee Nancy Zeleski was uncomfortable about giving patrons one name, but attorney Patty McDonald said services find a rotating system works best.

"We have found it is actually more fair this way becausepeople only take the name off the top of the list," McDonald said.

Trustees Zeleski and Eugenia Gartrell disliked taking a portion of a lawyer's fees in cases where the attorney is paid through a portionof the settlement.

The state system included this clause to help make the service financially viable, McIntire said.

Library opinion differs on that as well, as this is the first public library to tackle the service.

Andrew Hansen, executive director of the reference and adult services division of the American Library Association, said their policy discourages charging fees.

However, the portion ofthe contingency fees could be viewed as a contribution from the attorney, he said. Also, since the library would run the service for the bar, standards should be set by the bar association.

Maryland's division of library development and services in the department of education said the library should question the motives of the service.

"The library trustees should ask themselves, 'Why is it good public policy for a library to be doing this and is this an appropriate role for the library to play,' " said Sue Baughman, head of the division'spublic library branch.

Carroll's library director Martha M. Makosky answered that the service is merely extends the library's information provision role.

"There is every reason why we should do a referral service," she said. "The official profession position is againstcharging fees in general, but any revenue derived benefits the public through an enhancement of library services."

The $5,000 could keep the libraries open for one-half day per year, or purchase about 500 more books, Makosky said.

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