New head of bar association wants to help
Howard Schulberg, the new president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, in the conference room at his Downtown law firm of Goehring Rutter & Boehm.
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An ill person usually calls a doctor or heads to a hospital emergency room.
But individuals who need legal help aren't nearly as likely to contact a lawyer.
Among the reasons: fear of how much a lawyer will cost, concerns about lawyers' reputations or complete lack of knowledge about where to look for an attorney.
In an effort to raise awareness on obtaining low-cost legal services and to polish its own image, the Allegheny County Bar Association is trying to raise public awareness about some good things it believes the law community provides.
"A doctor is easy: You have a broken bone, you see them and they fix it. But with [lawyers], sometimes it takes some time" for people to become comfortable, acknowledged Howard Schulberg, a partner with Downtown firm Goehring Rutter & Boehm. On July 1, he started a one-year term as president of the county bar association.
Seven out of 10 households need legal services every year, but fewer than half seek out a lawyer, according to an American Bar Association report that surveyed the public on their perceptions of lawyers. "The challenge (and opportunity) for the legal profession is to make lawyers more accessible and less threatening to consumers who might need them," said the report published in 2002.
The Allegheny County Bar Association has 6,600-plus members including lawyers, judges, paralegals, legal administrators and law students.
Most of the initiatives Mr. Schulberg hopes to promote during his term aren't new. Outreach efforts to children, teens and senior citizens have been under way for years.
But the bar hopes to generate more participation in offerings such as the Lawyer Referral Service, which matches individuals with lawyers according to specific questions and issues they need to have resolved. There is a fee of $30, which includes referral to a lawyer for a 30-minute consultation after which the individual can decide whether to retain the lawyer.
"And if there's something where the individual cannot afford services, our lawyer referral staff is trained to refer them to the appropriate agency like the Better Business Bureau, a public defender or State Attorney General's office," said Mr. Schulberg.
For seniors, the bar's VIP Program explains the "very important papers" that older individuals should have on file, including wills, living wills and powers of attorney. The bar makes attorneys available to visit senior citizen centers to offer information and assistance on such documents.
In-school programs include a Stepping Out seminar for high school students to help them understand laws and issues that affect them as they turn 18, including leases, credit cards and criminal offenses such as driving under the influence.
For elementary-age students, the bar developed a diversity-related program to help children understand why some jokes that make fun of others' appearances, disabilities or ethnic differences can cause people to take offense. The school programs feature lawyers who travel to schools to interact with the students.
The Homer S. Brown Division of the bar, which focuses on issues facing African-American attorneys and African-Americans, along with the Women's Bar Association has sponsored street law clinics to provide homeless and low-income people with legal assistance.
Recently, the bar produced a guide to legal services for families in a medical crisis. To promote the guide beyond its website, Mr. Schulberg hopes a print version will be distributed in hospitals or doctors offices.
While details on all its programs are available on the bar's website, Mr. Schulberg said Pittsburgh has many older residents who are not necessarily connected online, so it will continue to run public service spots on television to provide legal information. "The 24/7 connectivity might not exactly fit our model here."
He also expects to continue the bar's ongoing push in the areas of gender equality and diversity, which he called, "kind of our signature programs."
The bar launched the Institute for Gender Equality in 2008 in response to findings that pay and promotions for female lawyers barely improved between 1990 and 2005. The institute offers classes for women and men in topics such as mentoring, self-promotion and business development skills.
The bar's diversity initiative, founded in 2004, focuses on recruitment, retention and mentoring of women and minority lawyers. According to the bar, the number of minority attorneys hired as associates at Pittsburgh firms increased from 6 percent in 2005 to 10 percent last year.
Plans call for combining the gender and diversity responsibilities into a full-time position, Mr. Schulberg said, with that person overseeing both initiatives and programming that will "move them forward."
Mr. Schulberg, 57, knew from a young age growing up in Squirrel Hill that he wanted to pursue a law career. His role model was his mother, June Schulberg, who returned to college while raising two sons and then earned a law degree at Duquesne University while balancing family with working full time and going to school at night.
She practiced family law and is now retired and living in Florida.
"How could you not be inspired by somebody who dedicates herself like that?" said the labor, employment, civil rights, municipal law and mediation specialist who holds a bachelor's degree from Penn State University and a law degree from Duquesne.
His brother also became a lawyer, and Mr. Schulberg is married to an attorney, Patricia Dodge, a partner who practices commercial litigation at Meyer Unkovic & Scott.
Correction/Clarification: (Published July 16, 2011) In a photograph in Friday's editions, Howard Schulberg, new president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, was pictured in the conference room at his Downtown law firm of Goehring Rutter & Boehm. An incorrect location was given in the photo caption.
First Published July 15, 2011 12:00 am