Hotline Referrals to a Legal Aid Program: One Model

By Mike Walters, Legal Hotline Managing Attorney, Pro Seniors, Inc., Project Manager, CERA.

Ohio, like many other states, has no umbrella organization conecting the Legal Hotline for Older Ohioans with the six Ohio legal services programs and their non-LSC funded corporate partners.  One of Pro Seniors’ tasks as part of its 2009 Model Approaches grant, was to establish direct relationships and referral systems to the legal services community.

Nationally, most legal aid programs receive Title III-B funding from their local Area Agency on Aging to provide legal services to seniors.  A statewide senior legal hotline is a bonanza of III-B funded cases.  The issue is how to match hotline cases with the appropriate legal services program?  Many legal services programs are eager to accept III-B funded cases, but such referrals require an efficient system to move the client seamlessly through the legal service program’s intake system to case acceptance.

The biggest obstacle to referring senior clients to legal aid programs is the legal aid intake system.  Legal service programs are overwhelmed with calls.  Many programs only open telephone intake during limited days or hours and online intake can be intimidating to seniors, particularly older seniors.  The ideal referral model refers the client to the appropriate legal services program without requiring the senior to navigate the legal service program’s online or phone intake system.

By far, the most successful referral partnership Pro Seniors has developed is with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE).  ABLE, the non-LSC funded division of Legal Aid of Western Ohio, was interested in receiving referrals that fit its Title III-B public benefits criteria.  Annually, Pro Seniors’ hotline receives hundreds of calls from public benefits clients living within ABLE’s jurisidiction.  To automate referrals, we developed a Crystal Report listing the preceding week’s public benefits hotline cases from ABLE’s counties that is emailed to me every Friday.  The report includes a direct link to the case in our case management system, Pika, for an easy review of the case notes to determine if the case might be of interest to ABLE.

For potential referral cases, I summarize the facts and client age and county (no identifying information is included) in an email to Rebecca Steinhauser, ABLE’s Managing Attorney for healthcare and public benefits.  If Rebecca wants a case, I obtain client permission for the referral and email client information, case notes and documents to ABLE.  I have never had a client refuse a referral.

Although informal, this efficient system has resulted in many hundreds of successful referrals over the years.  ABLE is happy with an unending source of vetted III-B cases, Pro Seniors is happy to refer clients to a full service program and the clients are happy because of the excellent extended service they obtain through a seamless referral.