Carbon County residents now have a new resource for legal help and for qualified residents, a new opportunity to find more affordable legal assistance.

The Carbon County Lawyer Referral Service, offered by the Carbon County Bar Association, is a new service designed to connect area residents in need of legal service with a qualified lawyer that specializes in the appropriate area of law. This service was launched on May 1.

"When people need an attorney, it's typically not for pleasant reasons," said Sheri Ryan, program coordinator. "With the referral service, we're going to help you find someone to meet your needs and alleviate some of the stress for the client."

In addition to the referral service, the Carbon County Bar Association also created a Modest Means Program, which allows low- and moderate-income clients to receive legal advice and representation at a reduced rate. The Modest Means Program applies to cases such as child support or custody, uncontested divorce, PFA (defendant only), Chapter 7 bankruptcy, collections defense, simple wills, power of attorney, and living wills.

Until now, local residents in need of legal counsel would need to search the phone book or Internet for an appropriate attorney or attempt to represent themselves in court. This can lead to lengthy delays in court, where most people aren't familiar with the judicial process. If they do search for representation, they might find an attorney from outside of the area who charges extra for travel fees, or struggle to find local representation that meets their unique legal needs.

"There are a lot of Scranton and Allentown law offices trying to work into the area," said Jason M. Rapa, a member of Rapa Law Office P.C. based in Lehighton. "Many of them don't have experience practicing in Carbon County. They don't know the local procedures," he said, noting that court procedures are slightly different in each county.

The new referral service is more personalized and seeks to match clients with the most appropriate local law office. This can save area residents time, money, and hassle.

"We're trying to fit the client to the attorney," added William G. Schwab, executive director of the bar association. "Not all attorneys handle all legal issues. It's a waste of the client's time, for example, to come to me for a divorce. I don't handle divorces," said Schwab, who specializes in personal injury and disability claims and bankruptcy law. By using the referral service, "You'll speak with someone who is experienced in this area."

Carbon County residents in need of a referral must complete an application detailing their legal needs. A $25 consultation fee is required. After this fee is paid, the resident will receive a half-hour consultation with the referred attorney at no additional cost. This time allows many clients to decide if further legal help is required.

"You might not resolve your issue in a half-hour, but you will be able to review your options," said Rapa, noting that many people will know after just 30 minutes if a case is worth pursing, or what various legal options might cost.

"Most people are upset and anxious because they don't know their legal options, or don't even understand the law. This at least puts them on the right track." A 30-minute consultation may be enough time to resolve simple issues, such as couples reviewing the terms of their will.

The association has also launched a Modest Means Program that works in conjunction with their referral service. Area residents in need of legal assistance who cannot afford standard attorney fees can complete the Modest Means Program application to request a 30-minute consultation with a lawyer specializing in their legal area. Approximately half of individuals and one-third of families in Carbon County are eligible for this program, which requires that the household earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. A family of four earning less than $46,100 annually would be eligible for the program, as would a single individual earning less than $22,344.

"We consider their income and expenses to see where they fall within the poverty guidelines," said Ryan, noting that the confidential application requires proof of income for all household members. A $25 application fee is also required. Income information is not shared with the lawyer as clients are referred.

While Modest Means Program clients are offered an initial 30-minute consultation at no additional charge, they are also eligible for discounted attorney rates if additional legal advice or representation is needed.

Paperwork for the Modest Means Program is typically processed on the same day that it is received. If the client is qualified for the program, a referral is often made that same day. The referred law office then has three days to contact the client, although in many cases it takes less time. Clients who do not meet the income requirements for the program will still receive a referral appropriate to their legal needs.

To learn more about the Carbon County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service or Modest Means Program, contact the association at (610) 379-4950 or go to www.carbonbar.org [1]. Application materials are available online.

"The community as a whole will benefit from having some sort of resource for legal counsel," added Rapa. "Deserving individuals will get reduced rates for the services that they need."