The Mississippi Bar Consumer Assistance Program
The Consumer Assistance Program of The Mississippi Bar began operations in September, 1994. The program, first of its type in the United States, is designed to assist consumers and attorneys with problems that may arise during the lawyer/client relationship. By design, the procedures of the program are informal. The program receives telephone calls, mail requests and in-person requests and inquiries for information or assistance from the Bar and performs an initial intake on most complaints about Bar members from the general public.
Usually, the client, consumer or other person is provided with a Request for Assistance form, however, the form is not required for the program to accept or handle the problem, request, or inquiry. After receiving the request, the program attempts to resolve the situation informally, or, if appropriate, direct the request for assistance to the proper channels such as the Fee Dispute Committee, the Judicial Performance Commission, the Committee on Professional Responsibility, General Counsel's Office, the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Program, the Lawyers and Judges Assistance program, or other areas of the Bar or public information sources.
If the request involves communication problems or other matters that do not rise to the level of an ethical complaint, the program attempts to resolve or informally mediate the situation to the satisfaction of the client, consumer, and/or attorney. If the request or inquiry alleges an ethical complaint, the matter is then referred to the Committee on Professional Responsibility and/or General Counsel's Office for further action.
All docketed cases opened by the Consumer Assistance Program have a 30 day time limit in an effort to promote and deliver prompt response to the consumer and the attorney. Requests for assistance plus any and all materials sent to the program are destroyed if there has been no action on the matter after 30 days. The consumer is advised in each and every letter sent from the program that if no contact is made in 30 days, then the file and its contents will be destroyed. Only raw statistical data is maintained by the program. Information provided to the program may or may not be deemed confidential.
No specific legal advice of any type is provided to the consumer or person making the request or inquiry. Only general legal questions are answered such as how the court system operates, time limits and other minor questions that are not involved with the particular circumstances of individual cases. If a consumer or other person forwards documents or other paperwork and then files a fee dispute or bar complaint, the program provides the documents forwarded to prevent the consumer from duplicating additional copies to be sent to the appropriate committees.
The Consumer Assistance Program receives an average of 100 docketed cases per month, mails out approximately 7 Request for Assistance Forms per day, and fields an average of 15 new phone calls per day. The program has observed that the most common problem between attorneys and their clients are communication difficulties. Returning phone calls and files are the most common requests clients have regarding their attorneys.
For further information on the Consumer Assistance Program, contact Glen Waddle, Director/Counsel of the program, at the Mississippi Bar Center, P. O. Box 2168, Jackson, MS 39225-2168; (601) 948-4471.
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