WCBA's 'Modest Means Program' set to begin in January

By Frank Weir

Legal News

Plans finally are in place for a January start of the WCBA-sponsored Modest Means Program.

The first in Michigan, the program is designed to assist family law clients who can't afford an attorney at the current market rate but are able to pay a reduced rate to a Modest Means participating attorney, according to Elizabeth Kitchen-Troop, who has been organizing the effort for the WCBA.

''We strongly feel there is a large need in the area given the influx of pro se defendants and plaintiffs,'' Kitchen-Troop said at a recent meeting of the WCBA's New Lawyers Section.

''Several members of the bench have indicated to us that helping pro se family law litigants is tremendously needed and those of us in that practice area could see with our own eyes that there has been a great increase in unrepresented individuals.''

Also, Kitchen-Troop noted that many legal aid programs do not have adequate funding to serve all who seek their help. She said that some programs report that three of four applicants must be turned away due to inadequate staffing and budgets.

Kitchen-Troop noted that participating attorneys will agree to accept up to $75 an hour and a retainer of not more than $375 up front. Only family law cases will be eligible as the program begins with a possible expansion into other areas as the program matures.

It is hoped all attorneys, experienced or new, will choose to participate. Those with less than three years of practice will be paired with volunteer mentoring attorneys who will act as a resource.

''Certainly we are targeting new lawyers but we really hope all attorneys will be interested in getting involved. It is a way for experienced attorneys who want to begin practicing family law to get started or to up their pro bono contribution,'' Kitchen-Troop said.

Attorneys will need to be a member of the WCBA's Lawyer Referral Service which will determine eligibility of clients before they will be seen by a Modest Means attorney.

Client eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Level guidelines. Clients cannot have more income than 250 percent of the guideline amount based on family size.

For an individual, that figure is $27,225.

''The most difficult part of setting up this program has been sorting out who will qualify,'' Kitchen-Troop said. ''Some individuals may have what looks like a large income but be so riddled with debt that they can't afford private counsel.

''I want to stress that this is a work in progress and our eligibility rules may very well change as we proceed but we needed a starting point. Some programs, like that in Toledo, work largely on the honor system and leave it up to the attorney to determine if a potential client really can afford an attorney. We really didn't want to have to put that burden on our attorneys so we developed an application process that the WCBA's LRS staffers will sort through.''

Kitchen-Troop also said that program organizers didn't want to encroach on current practitioner's clientele or cross over onto Legal Services' client base.

She added that Toledo's program covers the areas of criminal law, foreclosures, evictions, real estate, family law, consumer, and probate. Of the total 928 referrals for the Modest Means Program there, 619 (or roughly 67 percent) of them were for family law matters.

Given how new the Washtenaw program is, it remains to be seen how much it will be utilized she said.

'We think this is a really exciting new program and a great opportunity for new lawyers and experienced ones as well on a number of different levels. And we hope it will address the docket load for the courts too.''

Kitchen-Troop said that an informational session will be held sometime this fall, the notice of which will be sent out by the WCBA.

Interested attorneys can email Kitchen-Troop at ekitchen@klinelegalgroup.com

Published: Mon, Oct 24, 2011


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