Serving the Public and the Profession with the Legal Referral Service – Carey R. Dunne

 Carey Dunne

President’s Column, March 2013

You have probably had the experience of a colleague, friend or family member asking whether you can recommend a lawyer to handle an issue. I have just the place to send them.

The Legal Referral Service (LRS), which is co-sponsored by the New York City Bar Association and the New York County Lawyers’ Association, was set up in 1946 to help find work for lawyers returning from the war. Since then, the LRS has been a trusted resource for individuals and businesses searching for the right lawyer for their needs. Lawyers on staff at the City Bar, many of whom are bilingual, counsel callers and match them with some 600 attorneys in over 100 areas of law. The call to the counselor is free, and so is an initial half-hour consultation with a lawyer on certain issues; beyond that, the consultation is $35, with further fees to be mutually agreed upon between client and lawyer. Often, callers are looking for basic legal information or other assistance which the counselors can provide on the spot. In many other cases, there are high-stakes personal or business issues that need to be addressed through litigation, negotiation or adept legal counseling.

All told, the LRS fields approximately 100,000 calls per year. The most referred matters are in the areas of Negligence, Insurance & Workers Comp, followed by Labor & Employment, Trusts & Estates, Family & Mediation, Landlord Tenant, General Civil Business, Criminal Law, Real Estate, Securities, Bankruptcy, and Immigration. All lawyers on the LRS panel must carry liability insurance and have gone through a rigorous application and interview process. Not every lawyer is accepted, regardless of years of experience, which ensures that referrals can be made with confidence. Our Legal Referral Service Committee, comprised of judges and lawyers, investigate complaints and enforce quality standards.

What’s great about calling the LRS is that you are likely to get, not just a lawyer you can trust, but a lawyer with the specific experience needed for any sort of matter, regardless of its scope and complexity. Indeed, a good number of LRS cases in recent years have turned out to be quite unusual and, in some cases, groundbreaking. To give just two examples: in a matrimonial matter involving the wife of a middleweight boxing champion, the LRS-referred lawyer obtained an injunction on the distribution of the boxer’s championship purse and was thus able to negotiate for the spouse from a position of strength. Then there was the case of a valuable painting that had been owned by a Jewish family in Berlin in the 1930s. In 1937, as the family was about to leave Germany, the German National Museum bought the painting in a forced sale approved by Hitler. However, when the family left Germany they were not permitted to take the funds with them. Ultimately, thanks to our LRS panel lawyer, the painting was returned to the family’s descendents, who then sold it back to the German National Museum. Since the painting was considered a masterpiece, the matter was on the front page of German newspapers, was the subject of a ceremony attended by the German Chancellor, and the case was hailed as a model for how art restitution cases can be handled.

For everything from the smallest matters to the largest cases, the Legal Referral Service can be reached at 212-626-7373, or by visiting