The New York State Bar Association, the largest voluntary state bar in the country with 72,000 members, and Legal.io, a developer of referral-network and marketplace platforms for the legal industry, have teamed up to launch a state-of-the-art lawyer referral platform that they say will significantly expand access to legal services in that state.
The new platform is being described by its developers as a more ethical alternative to privately run referral sites such as Avvo and LegalZoom. It will serve New York residents seeking legal help as well as businesses anywhere seeking advice on New York law.
“The New Year State Bar Association has been trusted by lawyers and the public for 120 years to maintain and elevate standards in the profession,” said Tony Lai, CEO of Legal.io. “With this partnership, for the first time, this level of trust and standard setting is being combined with the online efficiencies and seamless user experiences the public has come to expect.”
Until now, the public could access the NYSBA’s lawyer referral service only by phone during business hours. The new platform moves the service to the cloud and makes it possible for someone to get a referral 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (The bar will continue to operate the telephone service.)
The platform uses machine-learning algorithms to help parse and categorize consumers’ requests for legal help and then help match them to a local lawyer with the appropriate expertise. Bar staff remain involved in reviewing intakes and making referrals, but the platform helps expedite the intake process and categorize the request.
Consumers pay nothing for the referral, but if they meet with the attorney, they are charged $35 for a 30-minute consultation.
They system will also track outcomes on each help request and referral in order to both improve the system and to improve standards of service for the public.
In a second phase of the new platform’s roll-out later this year, the referral service will be expanded to include local, county and specialty bar associations in New York, including the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, which already runs its referral service on the Legal.io platform.
“What makes the NYSBA interesting as a partner is that they play a statewide coordination role, not just within their bar, but also for other county and legal services organizations,” Lai told me in a recent conversation. “That’s a key piece that we’re excited about — not just a roll-out with them and their lawyer referral service, but also finding additional ways to roll-out with local bars and legal services agencies and potentially also the courts.”
A third phase will expand the platform further to support lawyer-to-lawyer referrals across the NYSBA’s entire membership base, whether they are located in New York or elsewhere.
The ultimate goal for the platform, Lai said, is to create a portal that connects the broad ecosystem of legal support organizations across the state, in order to expand and enhance access to justice.
Several studies on using technology to enhance access to justice have called for the creation of statewide legal portals, most notably the LSC’s December 2013 Report of The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice.
The partnership between the NYSBA and Legal.io was inspired by these recommendations, Lai said, and he hopes the platform will serve as a blueprint for other states.
“We have in the NYSBA a partner who shares the vision of this as a portal,” he said. “They are not in competition with other organizations in the state. They see themselves as a foundational or umbrella support organization.”