Michigan attorneys Tom Rombach and Odey Meroueh discuss limited scope and access to justice initiatives in their state. In this episode of On Balance from the NEXT Conference 2018, Rombach, a former State Bar of Michigan president, shares with host Robert Mathis about Michigan Supreme Court rules that provide guidance regarding limited scope representation. Meanwhile, Meroueh highlights efforts by the Detroit Bar Association to promote pro bono opportunities to its members, especially those in solo and small-firm category.
Odey Meroueh is the founding partner of Meroueh & Hallman LLP in Michigan.
Tom Rombach is a past president of the State Bar of Michigan and the owner of the Law Offices of Thomas C. Rombach in Michigan.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018 A Spotlight On Access To Justice
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away, ladies.
Robert Mathis: Hello and welcome to another edition of State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I am Robert Mathis of the State Bar of Michigan sitting in today for your regular hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent.
We are live from the State Bar of Michigan’s NEXT Conference 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and joining me today I have Mr. Tom Rombach and Odey Meroueh.
Tom Rombach: Hello.
Robert Mathis: Tom, will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Tom Rombach: Thanks Rob. I appreciate you hosting this program. I am a solo practitioner from Macomb County and I primarily do trial work, and I’m also a past President in the State Bar of Michigan.
Odey Meroueh: I am Odey Meroueh, I run a two-person law firm with my partner Zach Hallman in Dearborn, Michigan. We practice criminal, real estate and employment law, and I’m not a past president.
Robert Mathis: Yet.
Odey Meroueh: Yeah.
Robert Mathis: So, Tom, as a past president, won’t you know kind of tell us what you think about the NEXT Conference. I think this is the second NEXT Conference.
Tom Rombach: Yes, in fact this was a more recent phenomena than when I was in leadership, it’s rebranding of our State Bar Annual Meeting and it’s a renewed energy, it’s also a focus on the future and we were trying to do and capture this level of energy and engagement from our members when we had the 21st Century practice taskforce that our members would be looking further into the future, engaging different types of vendors and talking about the future of legal services, servicing our clients and with a focus of protecting the public here at the State Bar.
Robert Mathis: Awesome. So, Odey, what is your impression of the NEXT Conference?
Odey Meroueh: I’ve been a lawyer for about six years now and I’ve come to the — it used to be the Annual Meeting, now it’s the NEXT Conference every year, and it’s improved every year. I think since the day rebranded the NEXT Conference, they’ve tried to bring in some technological aspects such as the app that you can use to check out the schedule and a myriad of other things.
And so it has become much more technologically adept and focused and I think that’s something that a lot of attorneys are very interested in. I’d like to see more young attorneys come to these events, it’s generally very few that I know that come to them and it’s more the older attorneys but they are very interested in technology, the younger one, younger attorneys could be too, but they’re not showing up and I think that that should be a focus for the future is to try to get more young under 35 attorneys to come to the Annual Meeting, to the NEXT Conference.
Robert Mathis: Well, thanks to you for coming for the last six years.
Odey Meroueh: You are welcome.
Robert Mathis: Tom, so you are the co-chair of the Affordable Committee. You want to tell us a little bit about what the Affordable Committee does?
Tom Rombach: Yes, Rob, I’m very proud to be co-chair of the Affordable Legal Services and our mission there is to try to fulfill the needs of more moderate income earners here in the State as our client base is primarily dedicated to that type of endeavor. The legal profession has always done exceptionally well. I’d like to think at servicing the needs of high-income individuals and Corporate America.
And we’re doing an increasingly better job at servicing the needs of those that are 200% of the poverty line or below because of the funding for our Legal Services Corporation and the tireless efforts of our legal aid practitioners, but that hourglass shaped in the middle were a family of four, making $94,000 a year that may have a one or two vital legal needs each and every year.
They don’t either perceive or they in fact can’t afford a lawyer to address those needs and in fact that point of an income is beyond our median income earners for our own practitioners. So the fact that Henry Ford who developed the assembly line with the idea that somebody that works on the line could actually afford their own work product and that was a true gift to our community. We are not fulfilling that same goal here as lawyers and we’re trying to do a better job.
Robert Mathis: So, one of the goals of the Affordable Legal Services Committee is to increase access to justice for all. And one of the projects of the Affordable Committee is the Limited Scope Representation.
So, Odey, would you like to talk about some Limited Scope Representation and how you incorporate that into your practice?
Odey Meroueh: Well, I haven’t been able to incorporate it so much in my practice just yet. I’m still waiting to understand the rules a little bit better; however, I do see a burgeoning future for it. My clients that are a lot of the times coming in that hourglass that Mr. Rombach mentioned, people who don’t even realize they can afford an attorney, they know they need one, they know they need help, they know they need answers, but they don’t know where to go, and they know that if they go to an attorney, they might have to pay $300 just for the consultation, and that’s something right along just that they can’t afford.
So, I try to offer them a safe place to come and discuss and give them advice the best as I can even if they can’t afford me. But, I do see a future with a limited scope engagement of providing these limited scope not providing liability to myself completely, opening myself up to being in a trial just for being a part of a case and trying to help for a limited amount of money.
I think it’s an offer a lot, a lot of utility for hundreds of thousands of people in the State.
Robert Mathis: So, Tom, you’ve even been involved in limited scope representation, the work for quite some time, so what’s your insight on how limited scope can increase access to justice?
Tom Rombach: I think most importantly, Rob, that we were able to get the Supreme Court to adopt a rule, empowering lawyers in our State to be able to take on just a single facet with a case, for instance, in a divorce case that they could craft the complaint that was otherwise representing themselves in pro per could bring into the court or perhaps only a judgment of divorce.
And right now, the rule was before our court rule was changed that the lawyer would be in for a penny, in for a pound that they had to consistently, as Odey has indicated, represent the client throughout the case and people couldn’t always afford that deluxe type of legal service.
So it’s too many people, in fact 70% of the folks that were in our family law division of our Circuit Court were representing themselves and it was an educational mission both to our lawyers that they could offer this additional service and be essentially a la carte. And also do the judiciary to see that there was benefits in allowing an attorney to come in and only offer a portion of those legal services.
We’ve all done that with qualified domestic relations orders, that’s become essentially a commodity of where other people outside the profession are offering that at a very affordable price point. Now, we’re trying to do that with the entire service and that way people can get through effectively and also fairly through the court system and that allows folks that get a better deal and to be treated fairly and have the perspective that they were treated fairly, and had equal access to the court system.
Robert Mathis: And so at the State Bar of Michigan we have a quadrille pro bono program and so if clients are at 200% below federal poverty guidelines, then the legal aid program can refer that case to the State Bar and we have a panel of pro bono attorneys that will prepare those cuadros 08:00.
Before this podcast, we were talking about some of your Access to Justice work, Odey. Would like to elaborate on what you’ve been doing?
Odey Meroueh: Yeah, I don’t want to take any credit, to be honest, it’s not me that’s doing anything. I’m just on a committee, the Access to Justice Committee with the Detroit Bar Association and we’ve been working very vigorously in the last couple of months to — well, more than a couple of months to implement some new systems in place to better identify pro bono opportunities for both big firms and more specifically, solo and small firms.
In the past, big firms of course have the ability and have the wherewithal to provide pro bono services, and solo and small firms do want to too and I’m part of one and I’d like to provide them and I’d like to help out the community but I don’t know where exactly I can help and we’re trying to give that information out there to as many people as we can through our — the DBA website, we’re creating different forms and means of putting out the word for events.
For example, driver’s restoration, hearings, expungement hearings, these types of things can — we were creating different functions so that people — lawyers can give their time and help clients and find clients that are seeking out that kind of pro bono help.
Robert Mathis: And Tom, do you want to talk about some of your access of justice work?
Tom Rombach: Well, I think what Odey has indicated at all levels particularly our solo and small practice firms have been able to offer more accessible price points and oftentimes, free legal help when we talk about pro bono kind of out of the kindness of their own hearts. People come in, have a compelling story and have a need to access justice system in a way that is more 09:48 atraditional.
And I don’t think lawyers are always given the recognition because very few other professions are being called upon to do things for free. I mean, this is the way we support ourselves and support our families and try to get them in a better place in which we found them.
So, even myself in preaching this to each and every one of our members, I had to take on some cases myself because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and they’ve been very rewarding but at times very challenging, so I’m in the middle of right now of a parental termination trial, area that I haven’t traditionally practiced, but it’s sharpened my trial skills, it’s in a different forum and I hope to have just the very best outcome for my client,. They are depending on me just like they do if they were paying me a great rate. So, it’s important and this so went for me would be every bit as important as any case I’ve ever handled.
Rob Mathis: Excellent.
Odey Meroueh: Just to add to that briefly, yeah, he’s absolutely right. It can be absolutely frustrating work, pro bono work and getting recognition as a solo or small firm would increase the bonus I guess at the end or the cherry on top for — it feels good to help, it really does but at the same time it’s frustrating. So it would be nice to be recognized every once in a while, not me specifically, but solo and small firms.
Rob Mathis: So, State Bar is looking at different recognition opportunities and different strategies for recognizing pro bono attorneys, so more information on that in the near future.
So those were all my prepared questions, are there any other comments that you would like to share regarding any of the issues that we discussed today?
Tom Rombach: Well, I would mention too, Rob, we’re trying to roll out that modest means panel, a lot of people are here in our State understand the State Bar has a lawyer referral service where they can get an attorney that’s particularly attuned to their needs and their own geographic area as well as in the particular practice area, but we’re also rolling out a panel in which the lawyers will assign on to allowing only a $750 retainer and $75 an hour, so that would guarantee potential client 10 hours of legal services to be used in a particular practice area.
And so not only does our cloud laws, the platform now refer you to the best and brightest that we have in our State of Michigan to offer of the 46,000 legal professionals that are licensed but we also have a platform now that can offer this affordable, more affordable aspect for people’s, perhaps more routine legal needs and also when they’re in crisis that they can reach out and that we won’t bar the courthouse doors to somebody that can’t afford a traditional payment schedule.
Rob Mathis: So the State Bar’s Modest Means Panel currently they accept family law cases as you mentioned, the fee to retainer is $75 per hour and also Chapter 7 Bankruptcies.
Now, if you were an attorney why would you want to sign up for the Modest Means Panel? If you were talking to an attorney, how would you convince them to sign up?
Tom Rombach: Easy because I think right now the crisis had become is that there’s never been a greater need for legal services. Our societies become far more complex and far more legally oriented than ever before so the law is touching each and every aspect of people’s lives.
Unfortunately even though we have more lawyers than ever before, the conundrum is that we have greater need and because of the price points most lawyers need in order to have an overhead with an office and right now the person that cuts my grass is making more than the imputed wage for court-appointed lawyers, and the fact is that we have two more match that up.
So right now we have a lot of lawyers that are underemployed and unemployed and there’s a whole lot of legal talent on the shelf and there’s folks that are trying to build a practice and trying to get a foothold and we need to match that legal need up with the people that are able to fill that legal need, and that’s why a lawyer should sign up for this to supplement the folks that they are normally servicing and to augment those.
Because a lot of these folks may come in on a modest means manner, but then as they advance in their careers or they’re more fortunate to get back in the employment market or they have friends too that have distinct legal needs, and maybe those needs can be handled on a contingent fee basis where you wouldn’t need to put any of the money down at all and then the lawyer could get that out of the settlement or trial verdict and take the money out of the back, and a lot of people are seeking that type of help. So, you can grow a practice by doing this and again you can hone your trial skills just as I’m doing in a pro bono case.
Rob Mathis: Well, we are running low on time, so before I close out this podcast, I have one more question of each of you, if one of our listeners wanted to follow up what’s your contact information, Tom? How can they get in touch with you?
Tom Rombach: Well, I practice primarily in Macomb County and my number being (586)725-3000, and since the advent of the Internet I’ve had the same email address, Tom Rombach, just like my name, [email protected].
Rob Mathis: And Odey.
Odey Meroueh: Really you’d probably want to look up if you want to look up the Access to the Justice stuff that I spoke about the Detroit Bar Association website, you can Google that and all the information is on there. If you want to reach me, my website is mhatlaw.com, and our phone number is (313)582-7469.
Tom Rombach: And if I mention Rob too is that a lot of the legal resources on our State Bar website which is michbar.org.
Rob Mathis: Thank you, yes. Thank you.
Tom Rombach: michbar.org.
Rob Mathis: Well, that’s all the time we have for this program. Thank you Mr. Tom Rombach, and Odey Meroueh. Thanks for joining us today.
Odey Meroueh: Thank you.
Rob Mathis: I also want to thank our listeners for tuning in. If you like what you’ve heard today please rate us in Apple Podcasts.
I’m Robert Mathis of the State Bar of Michigan. We’ll see you next time for another episode of the State Bar Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network.
Outro: Thank you for listening to the State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast, brought to you by the State Bar of Michigan and produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network.
If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com, subscribe via Apple Podcasts and RSS. Find the State Bar of Michigan and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn or download Legal Talk Network’s free app in Google Play and iTunes.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network or the State Bar of Michigan or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.