By Keith Morris, President, Elder Law of Michigan, and Director, Center for Elder Rights Advocacy
The state of Michigan is very fortunate to have a Model Approaches Phase II Grant. While we are making great progress on our grant objectives, I want to take a minute and highlight the partnerships between the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors and two of the Title III-B legal service providers in the state.
Legal Aid of Western Michigan is one of the largest legal aid programs in our state. It is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan in Kent County. Several years ago, LAWM entered into a contract with the LHMS to handle all of the initial calls from seniors in Kent County. Whenever a senior calls LAWM, they are instructed to press 2, which automatically routes the senior to the legal hotline. Then, the hotline attorney discusses the issue with the client and provides advice. A referral to the III-B provider for further service is made when the hotline attorney determines that the client’s need falls within one of the priority areas and services offered by the full-service provider. Almost 90% of the calls received through this cooperative arrangement are resolved at the hotline level. This allows the full-service program to focus resources on more impactful cases.
The Sixty Plus Elderlaw Clinic at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School is the Title III-B provider for Ingham, Clinton, and Eaton Counties, which surround Lansing, Michigan. Due to recent declines in student enrollment and other funding issues, Sixty Plus has been trying to find ways to best serve their clients with the limited resources available.
For the past few years, they have been referring many clients to the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors. This would occur when they didn’t have any more intake appointments available or if the client was calling with an issue that they couldn’t assist with. After discussing the process that LHMS uses with the legal aid program in western Michigan, they decided it was a good idea to have a similar collaborative program for their clients. Starting around May 1, all new callers to Sixty Plus will be routed to a dedicated number that rings into the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors. Then, a hotline attorney will assess the situation, provide advice to the senior, and then for those that have issues that match Sixty Plus’s priorities and services, they will be referred for full service. Sixty Plus has even started promoting this dedicated number instead as the way to contact their office.
In both of these situations, the seniors will benefit because they will be receiving the appropriate level of service for their situation. It will also be less frustrating because the senior will be able to get legal advice if they are not able to access other services. By starting with the legal hotline, Sixty Plus will be able to save on costs of administration because they will minimize the amount of time spent doing referrals. They will also cut down on the number of intake appointments needed and will be able to only work with cases that have been assessed by an attorney at the legal hotline.
This collaboration also makes legal services available year-round, with the full-service matters being handled with the school’s schedule. All urgent matters can readily be addressed since a hotline attorney will be working with the client in a timely manner.
Technology plays a big part in the successfulness of these efforts:
- The phone systems have to be able to route the callers to the senior legal hotline. Without this automation, it will be hard to recognize any savings.
- The case management systems have to be able to electronically transfer information between the senior legal hotline and the full-service provider. This also results in a cost savings since the information doesn’t have to be keyed in again, conflict checks can be done quickly, and the full-service attorney can see exactly what the hotline attorney entered for case notes, etc.