Bar association is urged to help mid-income clients Report suggests ways to get by on lower fees

June 14, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

A new report to the state bar association calls for setting up &&TC private network of support services to help attorneys serve moderate-income Marylanders at low cost, in a bid to close the gap between poor people eligible for Legal Aid and affluent people who can easily afford counsel.

The Maryland Moderate-Income Access to Justice Project said its survey found that 750,000 Maryland households with annual income of $15,000 to $45,000 average one legal problem a year -- even after personal injury claims and criminal problems are excluded. But the project said many Marylanders go without help they need, either because they don't understand the system or doubt they can find an affordable lawyer.

"The goal of this is to make the private sector work better," said Michael Milleman, a University of Maryland law professor who coordinated the efforts of 35 lawyers who worked on the 40-page study. "There's not a word in here about the government funding this."

Instead, most of the burden to build bridges between middle-income Maryland and the law would fall on the four institutions that founded the Access to Justice Project -- the state's two law schools at UM and the University of Baltimore, the state bar association and the Maryland Institute for Continuing Professional Education for Lawyers, MICPEL.

"We'd like to target a population that doesn't qualify for Legal Aid but needs legal services," said Herbert S. Garten, a Baltimore lawyer who chaired the task force that wrote the report.

Among the recommendations of the report, scheduled to be presented tomorrow to the bar association's annual convention in Ocean City: reorienting law school curricula to concentrate more on the legal problems commonly faced by middle-income people; more education on how to operate the low-overhead, community-based practices that can serve middle-income clients; and an array of laboratory programs, services and more standardized legal forms to teach lawyers ways to cut their costs and cut their prices.

"We're not going to be able to help significant numbers of people unless we can find reduced-fee, high-tech, low-overhead approaches," Milleman said. He said the goal is to invent ways to practice that let lawyers make a profit on the lower fees, albeit a slimmer profit than many make now.

The average moderate-income family had about one civil legal problem in 1994, Milleman said. More than 72 percent did not even contact a lawyer.

The most difficult access was for clients with housing, small business or consumer law issues.

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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