By DONNA BALANCIA, The Florida Law Journal
MIAMI — Amy Melia likes to put people together. So as the director of the two-month-old Dade Lawyer Referral Service, she is fortunate enough to have everything she wants.
“I was always interested in legal aid and was always a cheerleader for the less fortunate,” Melia said. “The best experience in law school for me was working at the clinic, so helping people through the referral center is something I am really excited about.”
The Dade County Bar Association launched its LRS in October. And so far things are going well, Melia said.
“Our phone rings 100 to 200 times a day with potential cases,” Melia said. “We screen those calls, so it’s busy here.”
The Florida Bar transferred Dade County’s LRS to the Dade County Bar Association. The main reason is the workload: Miami Dade County accounted for more than 22,000 referrals for the state of Florida in 2009.
The Dade LRS so far has 145 attorneys on the service.
“We determine which are viable cases, and screen the calls,” she said. “When the caller decides they’re serious about hiring an attorney they pay us a small fee or in some cases there is no fee, depending on the type of case it is. We email the attorney and give them the client’s information, so they know when the person calls them it came from us. And in that email to the attorney we can include some notes on the case.”
Melia said she knows the system is working.
“Attorneys have been getting plenty of cases from us,” she said. “ We’re starting to get remittances from attorneys, proving many of the cases they’re getting are viable.”
For someone who has always been driven to help less fortunate, Melia says her new position is a great opportunity.
Melia graduated from Florida Coastal in 2009, worked an externship at The Immigrants Rights Clinic in Jacksonville, and then got a legal fellowship to work at Dade County Legal Aid Society. Then she began working Dade County Bar Association and was subsequently was named to run the center.
Melia said she never has a boring day.
“You hear some of the craziest stories you’ve ever heard in your life,” she said. “The day goes by really fast over here.”
The most common cases that get referred are in consumer law, such as credit and collections; and family law, with a good percent of divorce and child support matters; labor law; and medical malpractice.
In addition to the referral service, the Dade County Bar offers a low-fee panel, comprised of attorneys who agree to take cases at a lower cost than their regular fee.
With the referral service, the fee is negotiated between the attorney and the client.
For attorneys, the cost is minimal, at $150 for 15 months for the service. Depending on the case, there’s a remittance fee. Whatever fee is collected, attorneys give 15 percent back to the Bar.
“So far, the attorneys have been good about getting back to us, faxing and letting us know if the referral was a success or if they took the case.”
To download an application, www.dadecountybar.org.
Donna Balancia is the publisher and editor of The Florida Law Journal, the top website for lawyers in Florida. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org