As a member of the WSBA, you have probably heard about the Low Bono Section (LBS) and the Moderate Means Program (MMP), but you may not know the differences between the two. Although both entities serve similar client populations, they are very different groups. Here’s a quick introduction to both — and some ways you can get involved.
Low Bono Section
As a WSBA practice section, the Low Bono Section is composed of attorneys who share an interest in reaching clients of moderate means and supporting low bono practitioners who serve these clients. The LBS is made up of attorneys and non-attorneys who are mission-driven and whose primary work is to serve middle-income people by using a low bono model. Attorneys in the Low Bono Section join voluntarily and pay a fee. In some ways, the LBS is a bit like a club, with dues, an executive committee, subcommittees, regular meetings, and so on.
Moderate Means Program
The Moderate Means Program, on the other hand, is a program mostly funded through the WSBA and run in collaboration with the law schools. If the LBS is a club, then MMP is a lawyer referral service, albeit one that is larger and more complicated than most county-based lawyer referral programs because it is statewide and is run through all three law schools in Washington. Law students are recruited, trained, and supervised by the two MMP managing attorneys: Catherine Brown and me. The students contact potential clients, interview them, analyze their cases, revise their analyses based on MMP attorney feedback, and then shop the cases to the panel attorneys (about 500 statewide) until they find one willing to take the case, or at least meet with the client.
Serving low-income clients in different ways
In addition to providing most of the funding for the program, the WSBA is also primarily responsible for recruiting, training and supporting the MMP panel attorneys. The MMP is made up of attorneys, some who are low bono attorneys and some who are volunteering to take a low bono case in much the same way as they would volunteer to take a pro bono case (except that they do charge for the work they perform).
Roughly half the members of the Low Bono Section are also panel attorneys for the Moderate Means Program. While members will sometimes post on the LBS list serve about a case they would like to offer someone else, getting referrals is not the group’s primary purpose. The MMP, on the other hand, exists for just such a purpose: it is specifically set up so that potential clients who cannot afford regular legal rates but make too much to qualify for free legal aid services can get legal help at a reduced fee. Providing a valuable service to attorneys and educating students are the icing on the cake.
Both the Low Bono Section and the Moderate Means Program are innovative and relatively new efforts to provide services to attorneys and meet the needs of moderate income clients. While the programs are different, they really go hand-in-hand and many attorneys belong to both.
If you would like to join the Moderate Means Program, go to MyWSBA.org, click on Moderate Means and fill out the brief application. Signing up is easy and free, and you are not obligated to take any specific case or number of cases. You can also learn more about and sign up for the Low Bono Section on the WSBA website.