City Bar-supported ABA Resolution on Lawyer Referral and Information Services Unanimously Passes

At the ABA’s Annual Meeting on August 8, the House of Delegates unanimously passed Resolution 605 adopting the updated Model Rules Governing Lawyer Referral and Information Services (the “Updated Rules”) proposed by the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer Referral and Information Services.

The New York City Bar Association joined the Philadelphia Bar Association in support of the resolution to amend the Model Rules for lawyer referral and information services (LRIS Programs), which refer screened and qualified lawyers and answer questions for members of the public. The City Bar operates the longest-running Legal Referral Service in New York State.

Among other things, the Updated Rules have a new format that closely resembles that of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. These changes were made to encourage states to adopt the Updated Rules. In addition, diversity of lawyer panel members is encouraged, access to the services by those with disabilities is required, communications by clients with referral services are to be protected by the attorney-client privilege (as is already the case in New York, due in part to a legislative effort initiated by the City Bar several years ago), and malpractice insurance by lawyer panel members is now required. The Updated Rules reflect how lawyers currently operate, including with the use of electronic communications and by meeting with clients virtually.

The Updated Rules were the result of three years of work in which the executive director of the City Bar’s Legal Referral Service, George Wolff, and the past chair of the City Bar’s Legal Referral Service Committee, David Keyko, played key roles. David served as chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Referral and Information Services and chaired the special committee formed to draft the proposed updated rules, and George was a special member of the subcommittee. Of special note was the work of Briana Morris, Lawyer Referral Counsel at the ABA and Lucian Pera, who was the “floor manager” for the resolution to adopt the Updated Rules. This is the first time the model rules governing LRIS programs have been updated since they were adopted.

The ABA first adopted minimum standards for lawyer referral and information services 33 years ago and the model rules four years later. The standards and rules were designed to ensure that LRIS Programs are operated first and foremost in the public interest, furthering access to justice, and that services treat lawyers who want to participate fairly. The Updated Rules have the same goals. Similarly, the former and Updated Rules are designed to apply to both bar association-run LRIS Programs and those that are privately operated for profit.