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Brooklyn Bar Association on board with extending attorney-client privilege

Support comes as NYS Bar Association urges Gov. Cuomo to act

March 13, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Roseann Hiebert of the Brooklyn Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service (pictured right with Avery Okin left and Salaria Robinson center) has worked with the state bar association for the last couple of years to have attorney-client privilege extended to lawyer referral services throughout the state. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State Senate and Assembly have recently passed a bill that would extend attorney-client privileges to lawyer referral services, and both the NYS Bar Association (NYSBA) and the Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) want to see that bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Lawyer referral services are common throughout the country. It’s a service that helps pair clients with attorneys who practice in their area of need. To connect lawyers and clients, the a lawyer referral service needs information from clients — information that could potentially hurt their cases if not protected.

“People who rely upon lawyer referral services for assistance do so with the assumption that the detailed information they provide is both necessary to receiving a referral, and confidential,” said NYSBA President Sharon Stern Gerstman. “This legislation would resolve any potential question about the confidentiality of communications between the state’s 20 lawyer referral services and those who rely on them for help, and the New York State Bar Association strongly urges Gov. Cuomo to sign it into law.”

The BBA’s Lawyer Referral Service is not only one of the biggest in the state, but also in the country as it takes in some 20,000 phone calls and makes approximately 10,000 referrals each year.

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BBA’s director for its lawyer referral service, Roseann Hiebert, has been working for years to get a law passed to protect the sensitive information that clients give her and her intake workers. She said that they already treat such information as confidential, but need further protections.

“When people call us we always ask their legal issues so we can match them up with the appropriate attorney, but they’re giving us sensitive info,” Hiebert said. “Most lawyer referral services around the country, although there is no legal protection, treated the info as confidential anyway, but this keeps us from being subjected to a subpoena down the road.”

California passed similar laws in 2013 and Oregon signed legislation into law just last month to protect people who use such referral services. Hiebert says that it’s about time for New York to catch up.

“It’s a protection for the bar so we don’t have to worry about being sued or being brought into court proceedings,” Hiebert explained. “Also a lot of times people don’t want to give the information so we can’t give them an appropriate referral. It is an issue, but if this passes we’ll be covered under that privilege.”

The bill was developed by the NYSBA’s Committee on Lawyer Referral Service, which Hiebert is on, and the NYC Bar Association. It is sponsored by Sen. John Bonacic from Mount Hope and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz in the Bronx. It has to be signed by Cuomo to go into effect.


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