Job Search Strategies: The CBA lawyer referral service

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

Last week I attended a meeting at the Chicago Bar Association on the topic of the CBA’s lawyer referral service (LRS). As the meeting proceeded I had an “aha” moment, thinking what a great resource this is for both attorneys and clients. What surprised me was that I have never taken advantage of this service. I certainly intend to now.

Now that I am finally focusing on this resource I realize what a useful tool it could be to build up your client base. One attorney at the presentation claims he receives eight to 10 referrals a month from it. The referrals are pre-screened by the CBA LRS, either by attorneys or by a trained layperson.

The cost is relatively low. Annual dues range from $75 to $300 for CBA members, double for nonmembers. You pay 15 percent of the fees you collect on referred cases to the CBA.  The client pays a $30 fee for using the referral service. Once you are retained by the client, you collect that fee and pass it on to the CBA.

The so-called general panel covers 47 areas of law and each attorney can sign up for referrals in up to four areas of law. The Special Experience Panels cover fewer areas of law and the annual registration fees are higher.

According to the CBA LRS website, under the Services tab, the qualifications to receive referrals in any of the general panel areas are:

  • Handle general civil litigation (contract disputes, collections, property damage, etc.)
  • Admitted to practice for a minimum of one year and engaged in the substantial private practice of general areas of law.
  • Maintain an office outside your home with telephone access.
  • Maintain an adequate office calendar/support system for tracking cases.
  • Have reasonable courtroom experience.
  • Complete written application, maintain professional liability insurance, obtain approval of screening panel.
  • If approved, annual registration fee of $75 if in practice under 5 years; $100 if 5 years or more (rates are double for nonmembers).

The Special Experience Panels require the following qualifications:

  • In addition to General Panel qualifications above, must have at least five years’ concentrated experience in area of law applying for.
  • Annual registration fee of $150 or $200 (depending on panel) for up to four panels (rates are double for nonmembers).

Additionally, the Lawyer Referral Service has an ARDC panel of attorneys experienced in representing attorneys in disciplinary proceedings before the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Hopefully, none of us will need the latter service ever, but I, for one, am going to test out the client referral service soon. Of course, there are numerous other lawyer referral services for Illinois lawyers and if any one of you readers has used any of them, please leave me a comment sharing your experience.

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