Service at the Request of Church Leaders

By Service and Outreach Committee

May 20, 2020 | 10:32 PM

Guidelines for Assisting Church Members in Need of Legal Help


The Law Society strongly endorses one of the noblest traditions of the legal profession – the legal representation of those in society who otherwise do not have equal access to protection of the law.  This tradition has special meaning for attorneys loyal to the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints whose faith leads them to give freely of their time, skills and means to the Lord’s storehouse.[1]  “The Lord’s storehouse includes the time, talents, skills, compassion, consecrated material and financial means of faithful Church members.  These resources are available to the bishop in assisting those in need.”[2]

Referral Process

A common practice in LDS communities is for Priesthood leaders to ask LDS attorneys to provide legal assistance to Church members who qualify for assistance under Church welfare principles.  To reduce burdens on Priesthood leaders and attorneys alike, the Law Society hopes to facilitate the following process by which Church members may be referred for legal help:

  1. A Priesthood leader (usually a bishop) determines a member’s need for legal services based on welfare principles.
  2. The Priesthood leader contacts the local Service Coordinator (see below).
  3. The Service Coordinator contacts a local Volunteer Attorney (see below).
  4. The Volunteer Attorney meets with the referred member.
  5. The Volunteer Attorney establishes an attorney-client relationship with the referred member when necessary and appropriate.

Additional details about this process are set forth in the remainder of these guidelines.

Guidelines for Participants

Priesthood Leaders –

A Priesthood leader, usually a bishop, determines the need for legal services based on Church welfare principles.  Generally, the bishop refers the qualified member to the Service Coordinator (see below).  He may also assign a member of the Ward Welfare Committee to make this contact.

Engagement – The member engages the attorney for legal services and is the “client.”  The Church and the Priesthood leader do not engage the attorney.

Confidences – The Priesthood leader exercises great caution to ensure that he does not disclose confidences covered under the priest-penitent privilege to the Service Coordinator or the Volunteer Attorney.

Attorney-Client Privilege  – The Priesthood leader communicates sufficient facts so that the Volunteer Attorney understands the nature of the case.  The Priesthood leader should not sit in discussions between the attorney and the person referred in which the attorney gives legal advice.

Expectations – Those faced with legal challenges often come to an attorney with unrealistic expectations.  Church members are no exception.  Some Church members expect Church standards or values to be applied in a secular setting or believe that because an attorney is a Church member, he or she will follow a different set of rules than those prescribed by the courts.  Most Church members have never been advised by legal counsel before and have little understanding of the time and effort needed to resolve legal issues within the framework of the judicial system.  Priesthood leaders who are alert to unrealistic expectations can help members better prepare to meet with legal counsel.

Legal Fees – The greatest demand for no-cost or low-cost legal service typically falls within a few specialties of the law such as family law, immigration and criminal defense.  Were Law Society members who practice in these areas to respond at no cost to every request, they could easily impair their ability to provide for themselves and their families.  Priesthood leaders can therefore expect that Law Society members will often assist members referred to them on a reduced-fee basis.   That is, the attorney will charge fees for his or her time but at a significantly reduced rate per hour.[3]  Additionally, Priesthood leaders can expect that significant costs, such as court and mediation fees, must be paid in advance. While a reduced-fee arrangement typically includes a certain amount of free consultation at the beginning of the case, Church members referred through the JRCLS process should usually expect to have some financial investment in their case.[4]  Priesthood leaders should always explore the needy individual’s ability to pay, even if the amount is small and payments are spread over time.  Financial resources of a person’s immediate and extended family should also be explored.  Priesthood leaders are reminded that any use of fast offering funds for legal fees and expenses should be done in a manner consistent with Church welfare principles, especially in adversarial proceedings involving members on both sides of the litigation.

Important additional guidelines for Priesthood leaders may be accessed here

Law Society Chapters –

Each chapter of the Law Society should form a Service and Outreach Committee (ideally one or more local board members) to address service and outreach by Chapter members at the local level.  One or more members of the Service and Outreach Committee will serve as Service Coordinators.  Service Coordinators serve as liaisons between Priesthood leaders and Volunteer Attorneys.

Service and Outreach Committee – The Service and Outreach Committee:

  1. Assesses local resources for providing legal assistance on a no-cost or low-cost basis;[5]
  2. Meets with Law Society members or other lawyers to confirm their willingness to provide legal services under these guidelines.  (This will often be groups of lawyers whose practices include specialties for which there is high demand.)
  3. With approval from the local board and by invitation of local Priesthood leadership (either the local Area Seventy or Area Presidency), communicates information about legal resources to local Church leaders.  Information which would typically be provided to local Church leaders is:
    • A copy of these guidelines.
    • The name and contact information of the Service Coordinator(s) (see below).
    • Other local legal resources available to Church leaders.
  4. Appoints one or more committee members to serve as a contact for Priesthood leaders who desire to refer Church members for legal help (the “Service Coordinator”).
  5. Regularly reports the service experiences of Chapter members to the Chapter board.
  6. Maintains a list of Volunteer Attorneys willing to assist Church members referred by local Priesthood leaders and works to balance referrals for legal assistance among available attorneys.

Service Coordinator – The Service Coordinator is the direct contact for Priesthood leaders who desire to help Church members secure legal advice.  The Service Coordinator communicates the basic facts of a referred matter to the appropriate Volunteer Attorney and arranges for direct communication between the referred member and the Volunteer Attorney.

Important additional guidelines for Service Coordinators may be accessed here.

Volunteer Attorneys – The Law Society acknowledges and salutes the selfless service of many attorneys who respond to the request of Church leaders for assistance.  This quiet, often unheralded service is among the highest and noblest traditions of the legal profession.  Volunteer attorneys who agree to participate in the Law Society’s referral process should:

  1. Communicate directly with the client after contact by the Service Coordinator;
  2. Establish the attorney-client relationship by way of a written engagement letter which contains an express disclaimer that neither the Church nor the Law Society:
    • Are liable for the attorney’s errors or omissions;
    • Will provide any malpractice insurance coverage for the attorney.
  3. Resolve the legal matter in a competent and timely way.

Important additional guidelines for Volunteer Attorneys may be accessed here.

Legal Matters Covered and Not Covered

The areas of law most commonly involved in the Law Society’s referral process include:  bankruptcy, criminal defense, employment law, basic estate planning, family law, immigration and landlord/tenant.  Areas of the law not covered by the Law Society’s referral process are:  Out-of-state matters, matters typically handled by contingent-fee arrangements, product liability, personal injury, anti-trust, business formation, commercial disputes and consumer debt.   Civil rights, employment discrimination or harassment matters are also not normally covered.

International Service and Outreach Committee

The International Service and Outreach Committee will serve as a resource for any Law Society Chapter desiring to facilitate the referral process described in these guidelines.

Specific Coverage Areas

In the links set forth below, the Law Society provides additional suggestions and guidelines for specific areas of legal need:

Family Law

[1] See Doctrine & Covenants 42: 33-34.
[2] Thomas S. Monson, “Guiding Principles of Personal and Family Welfare,” Ensign, Sep. 1986, 5.
[3]A typical reduction would be 25% to 50% off the attorney’s normal billing rate.
[4] Experience teaches that members who have some financial investment in their case are more responsive to an attorney’s requests, less demanding of the attorney’s time and more realistic about desired outcomes.
[5] Chapters may coordinate their efforts with local bar association or other pro bono legal services programs.